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Tense political field and Covid-19

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, March 9
The appearance of the novel Coronavirus in Georgia

The first case of the novel Coronavirus was first detected in Georgia on February 26th- a Georgian citizen who was coming back from Iran tested positive for Covid-19. The fact intensified the already existing fear in society. The scale of the virus spreading is not determined yet, but the authorities are doing their utmost to keep the civil society calm.

Up until now, there were only mild discussions regarding the potential harm of the Coronavirus epidemic to the tourism sector. 2019 was record-breaking in that sense: the country received 9,358,000 tourists and spent GEL 8,5 billion. The novel Coronavirus is most prevalent in China and Iran and a large number of people were visiting Georgia from both countries. Suspending flights with these countries for even just 4 months will cost the Georgian tourism sector around GEL 100 million.

The government attempted to hold meetings with individual parties of the opposition. The United Opposition has been demanding the proportional electoral system and the release of political prisoners. Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze met with the leaders of the Alliance of Patriots and Girchi, however, it looks like no major political forces of the opposition are going to engage in the talks with the government representatives. The government needs the talks with the opposition to impress the West with its efforts toward the consensus.

Expecting the governmental change

Possible changes in the government are still actively discussed, the reason being the Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani’s statement a few weeks ago when she mentioned that her time in the Parliament is limited. She has been the Justice Minister since 2012. A couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia replied to the question regarding the changes: “Let’s wait for Spring.” Some regarded his comment as a bad joke, some thought it was a confirmation. In the end, the government was irritated and the VVice-Speaker of the Parliament Gia Volski firmly stated that “the government is not going to change in Spring.”

The Vice Speaker’s statement didn’t help the suppositions. Experts even name Prime Minister Gakharia’s possible replacement, Head of the State Security Service Grigol Liluashvili. They also share the supposition that Ivanishvili will 'sacrifice the ministers of the economic sector,' and others will be replaced not in Spring but right before the elections.

The factor of Merabishvili

On February 20th, Vano Merabishvili, Interior Minister during the ruling of the National Movement, left prison. He was sentenced in May 2013 and served for 6 years and 9 months.

His first statement after leaving prison caused a stir, especially in the ruling team. Merabishvili announced that he is going to return to politics and vowed that Ivanishvili’s government would collapse in a year. It was later made clear that with ‘collapse’ he meant 'changing through elections.'

Merabishvili is planning to return to politics but it is yet uncertain who he will join- he won't be able to unify the National Movement. Both of the parties, including the European Georgia, have new leaders new concepts which Merabishvili doesn’t fit. He won’t even be able to gain the trust of the ‘neutral voters.’ On the contrary- he might scare them away. The ‘neutral voters’ include those who are frightened by the violence of the National Movement ruling. These associations concern the Interior Minister of the time.

Merabishvili’s reappearance might louse up the United Opposition. The negative attitude toward Merabishvili is so prevalent in the opposition that some even supposed the government released him to break up the United Opposition.

Despite such hearsays, Merabishvili hasn’t commented on his political plans. He stated that he should first restore the health damaged during his imprisonment, thus taking time out from politics.

(Translated by Mariam Mchedlidze)