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kobakhidze takes over as prime minister in georgia

Kobakhidze Takes Over as Prime Minister in Georgia

Author: Nicholas Castillo

Feb 21, 2024

Image source: Parliament of Georgia

On February 8, the Parliament of Georgia confirmed the nomination of Irakli Kobakhidze, a long-time Georgian Dream party elite, as the new Prime Minister of Georgia. Along with his new cabinet, Kobakhidze was appointed by a vote of 84 to 10, with all members of the current Georgian Dream Party governing coalition voting in his favor. The governing shake-up occurred with upcoming national elections in October and Georgia’s ongoing push towards European Union (EU) membership. However, given the nature of politics in Georgia and Kobakhidze’s own controversial background, it does not appear clear that Kobakhidze will be a decisive factor in pursuing Georgia’s EU aspirations.

Much attention has been paid to Georgia of late, whether because of its crucial role in the build-out of the Middle Corridor transit path, the Georgian Dream’s shaky relationship with Brussels, or because of Georgia’s long-running European Union aspirations. This may lead some onlookers to wonder if a new Prime Minister will bring a marked shift in Tbilisi’s policy. Yet, Georgian Dream has switched prime ministers several times since taking power in 2012 with little noticeable change in policy. Many experts view the Georgian Dream as an organization within which informal power relations rather than official roles are central. This is especially true in regard to Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who analysts view as the “de-facto” ruler of the party regardless of who holds the office of Prime Minister.

Ivanishvili formally returning to politics just over a month before the change in Prime Minister hints at possible motivations behind Kobakhidze taking over from Garibashvili. It was Ivanishvili, once again the honorary chair of the party, who nominated Kobakhidze for the role of prime minister. Kobakhidze is a vocal supporter of the billionaire and thanked him explicitly for his role in Georgian politics during his acceptance speech to the parliament.

To the extent that Kobakhidze makes a distinct political impact, it may be by way of his personality. Kobakhidze is known to, at times, offer pro-European or pro-Western rhetoric but has also been a loud and sometimes crass voice in Georgian media. He has given inflammatory or insulting statements regarding the political opposition, Western institutions, liberal elements of Georgian society, and local non-governmental organizations. Kobakhidze also supported last year's attempt at passing a controversial foreign-agents bill. In a rhetorical sense, then, Kobakhidze may bode poorly for the persistent infighting that plagues Georgian politics, a problem that has drawn the disapproving attention of European Union policymakers.

Nevertheless, Kobakhidze has arrived as Prime Minister at a critical time in Georgian politics. In 2024, Georgia is poised not only for a national election in the Fall but also for the work needed to open talks on EU membership. Late 2023 saw a significant step forward in Georgia’s long-running European Union aspirations when the European Commission granted Georgia EU membership candidacy status. However, the European Union did give Georgia a list of nine priorities to address before opening membership talks including ambitious reforms on de-oligarchizing, ensuring human and civil rights, and political cooperation. With so many in Georgia so strongly supporting EU accession, it is difficult to imagine the Georgian Dream will ignore the prospect, regardless of who is prime minister.

Perhaps as a result of this, despite his own controversial past, Kobakhidze now appears to be signaling an interest in pushing forward with EU accession. Before his confirmation, Kobakhidze presented a “Program for the Construction of a European State” and stated that his party has a concrete plan to fulfill the 9 conditions set by the EU Commission in 2023. Kobakhidze will also travel to Brussels on February 20-21 to discuss the candidacy process. 

Kobakhidze comes from the more right-wing section of the Georgian Dream party and yet there now exist stronger incentives toward Europeanization than ever before in Georgia’s modern history. Domestically speaking, with elections coming up this fall, if the Georgian Dream can make significant progress on EU accession, they will have something important to offer the Georgian public. For now, though, it is unclear whether Kobakhidze will be a meaningful factor in either succeeding or falling short of EU requirements.

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