Much-reduced role for Georgia's new president Giorgi Margvelashvili

Critics say billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili wields the real power


When Giorgi Margvelashvili was sworn as Georgia’s president today, he stepped into the rather large and controversial shoes of the outgoing leader, Mikhail Saakashvili.

Having whipped what had been regarded as a corrupt and failing state into shape, Mr Saakashvili used his authoritarian tenure to transform Georgia into an economic growth story. The government, and the streets, are both safer.

Yet Mr Margvelashvili will inherit a downsized version of the Georgian presidency, wielding far fewer powers than his predecessor. According to a new constitution approved last year, Mr Margvelashvili will hold ultimate control of Georgia’s armed forces and play an important role in its foreign policy.

But the real ruler of the country will arguably be the eccentric and often irritable billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of Georgia’s ruling coalition Georgian Dream party and the current prime minister.

It was the prime minister’s office that the president’s former powers were transferred to yesterday, and at the same time it is Mr Ivanishvili who has catapulted Mr Margvelashvili to the presidency.

The incoming president is enthusiastic about the part his friend has played in his success. “His role… in my overwhelming victory cannot be underestimated,” Mr Margvelashvili has said. The depth of their relationship had become clear earlier, when it took an hour with his photographer and press team to find a photo of Mr Margvelashvili in action without the 57-year-old billionaire also in the picture.

That the president is close to the leader of parliament is not necessarily a bad thing. Things become a little bit more complicated though at the end of the month, when Mr Ivanishvili will step down as prime minister and, in theory, retire from politics.

Some argue that Mr Ivanishvili’s premiership has served the sole ambition of ousting Mr Saakashvili and his party from power, after the former president led Georgia into a kamikaze war with Russia in 2008, oversaw the arrest of opposition members who became too outspoken, and was tainted by allegations of systematic rape and torture in Georgia’s prisons.

But questions remain about who will ultimately be the source of authority in Tbilisi. The outgoing prime minister recently nominated 31-year-old Irakli Gabriashvili as his successor, telling reporters, without a trace of irony: “Such a nomination happened in a democratic country; none of [the] team members expressed anything else save ovations and everyone was absolutely happy. This is very important and I am also happy that I have made a correct choice.”

Mr Ivanishvili’s nominee started in government as its youngest member when he became interior minister late last year. He had previously worked for Mr Ivanishvili.

The introduction of two inexperienced politicians into Georgia’s two foremost political posts, solely on the basis of their relationship with Mr Ivanishvili, has caused consternation among Georgian political commentators, and among investors, who fear the country will soon be run by an unaccountable billionaire businessman from a luxury mansion overlooking his own private zoo.

The president-elect does little to assuage investors’ concerns, especially as Georgia’s economic growth rate has fallen from 7.5 per cent to 1.3 per cent in the year since Georgian Dream took office. Paata Sheshelidze, President of the New Economic School of Georgia, believes the climate of uncertainty extends beyond political leadership.

“They said everything that was done before was wrong. Therefore, we should change everything. The government’s idea was to break down everything and make a brave new world,” he said.

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice