Irakli Alasania, leader of the Free Democrats party which formally remains part of the GD ruling coalition for now, said after being sacked from Defense Minister’s post that there is a political crisis in the country and efforts should be made to avoid its further deepening.
In an interview with Rustavi 2 TV late on Tuesday evening, shortly after PM Irakli Garibashvili announced about firing Alasania, the ex-defense minister refused to specify whether his party, Free Democrats, would quit the six-party GD ruling coalition.
He said it would be one of the issues discussed when he meets PM Garibashvili and other coalition leaders when GD’s main decision-making body, the political council, gathers on Wednesday.
Asked if he sees the GD in its current configuration in the next parliamentary elections in 2016, Alasania responded: “I see absolutely no chance of that.”
If the Free Democrats quit GD, which seems likely, the ruling parliamentary majority will lose 10 seats in the Parliament and consequently will also lose majority; although remaining the largest group, it will have 73 seats, instead of current 83, in the 150-member Parliament.
Parliamentary faction of the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia, party chaired by PM Garibashvili, is the largest one within the majority group with 46 lawmakers; GD-Republicans faction has 9 lawmakers; GD-Conservatives, GD-National Forum and GD-Industrialists factions have 6 members each.
UNM opposition party is the second largest group in the Parliament with 51 seats.
Six MPs are united in a faction of independent majoritarians, which is neither part of parliamentary majority nor minority groups, but the faction is more inclined, although not always, towards supporting government proposals.
Remaining ten MPs are independent lawmakers, some of them who quit UNM and others who quit GD, and who are not united now in any of the factions or groups; one of them, Koba Davitashvili, is only nominally a member of parliament and in fact he does not even participate in parliamentary work after announcing about quitting the politics last year.
After Alasania was dismissed, his ally from the Free Democrats party, Alexi Petriashvili, announced about stepping down from his post of the State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. It remains to be seen if Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, who is affiliated with the Free Democrats party, will follow suit. The same is about Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze, who is a sister of Alasania’s wife. Deputy PM and Minister of Energy, Kakha Kaladze, said he won’t be surprised if Panjikidze and Tsulukiani resign too.
PM Garibashvili’s announcement about sacking of Alasania was a culmination of tensions that has been building up since the arrest of officials from the MoD and general staff on October 28 on misspending charges in an alleged sham tender on laying fiber optic cable last year. The arrests immediately fueled speculation that the move was part of infighting within the GD ruling coalition. While still the Defense Minister, Alasania gave his full support to the arrested officials by saying for couple of times that he was fully convinced in their innocence. But PM Garibashvili said that he “too had questions” to the Defense Minister over handling of the tender. Prosecutor’s office further upped the ante on November 4 by filing new charges in a separate case against three army medical officials and three employees of a state-owned food provider company in case related to foodborne illnesses of hundreds of servicemen last year. On the evening of the same day Irakli Alasania, standing alongside allies and lawmakers from the Free Democrats party, said that the MoD-related arrests and investigations were “obviously politically” motivated and was “an attack on Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice.” Less than four hours later, PM Garibashvili announced about sacking of the Defense Minister.
In the interview with Rustavi 2 TV late on November 4 Alasania reiterated his allegations about link between the recent “campaign” against the MoD and country’s foreign policy course.
“Such a massive attack that has been carried out against the Ministry of Defense in recent days leaves no other option but to say that this is a campaign against the main driving force for achieving our Euro-Atlantic aspirations. That is why it is important to clarify all the details of this case; I will follow this case up to the end to find out where this order was coming from,” Alasania said.
“All the pro-western political forces, every citizen for whom these values are valuable should stand united like a fist,” he said.
Asked if that also applies to the UNM opposition party, Alasania responded: “Everyone for whom these values are important.”
“Very serious, important stage is starting for our country, which will become a watershed between those who stand on the European values and those who stand on the values which the Georgian people do not need.”
Asked if he has doubts in any of the cabinet member’s pro-western orientation, Alasania responded: “I have no such doubts about any of the minister.” But when asked specifically about the Prime Minister, Alasania said that he will be able to comment on this after the planned Wednesday’s meeting of the GD’s decision-making body, the political council.
Commenting on PM’s remarks accusing him of mishandling tenders, Alasania said: “Today I’ve seen a prosecutor rather than the Prime Minister in [Garibashvili] and it deepened my suspicions that all these events were planned for the purpose of staining image of the Defense Ministry.”
He also alleged that it was plotted to target him personally as well.
“I can say for sure that one of the reasons of this attack [on the Ministry of Defense] was an attempt to destroy potential political rival, but they will fail,” Alasania said. “I want to tell those who have planned it that there is no way to frighten me and to take Georgia away from the Euro-Atlantic course.”
He declined to say who specifically he thinks is behind of what he calls a deliberate “campaign” against him and the MoD.
“I will not answer to all the questions today. I am waiting for tomorrow’s meeting,” Alasania said referring to a meeting of GD’s political council on Wednesday.
Asked if he rules out that he too might also be arrested and charged, the ex-defense minister responded: “Of course I do not rule out anything.”
In the TV interview he also spoke about the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for 2016, and said that these elections “will be very different from the previous one,” held in 2012.
“During the previous elections everyone, political parties with different values, were united against the [Saakashvili] regime and the next elections will be about political groups united around values,” he said.
When asked about ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, Alasania said that he is not in touch with him. Alasania then also said that “everyone should take note of what President Margvelashvili said” – referring to the President’s remarks that the country should be ruled by institutions and “not from backstage.”
Mindia Janelidze, 36, whom PM Garibashvili named as the next defense minister replacing Alasania, is not a political figure and is relatively little known to wider public.
Alasania said that Janelidze, who is currently secretary of the state security and crisis management council, is a “patriot” and expressed hope that he will continue reforms in the MoD. Janelidze was director of the counter-intelligence department at the Ministry of Interior since late 2012 when now PM Garibashvili held the post of the Interior Minister.