Georgia’s Bidzina Ivanishvili named retired soccer player Kakha Kaladze (pictured) and a former envoy to the United Nations on Monday as his prospective cabinet deputies after leading an opposition coalition to election victory.
The billionaire whose Georgian Dream opposition coalition ended President Mikheil Saakashvili’s nine-year dominance last week tapped two former diplomats with pro-Western views and a former football star on Monday to take key positions in the government when he becomes prime minister later this month.
Bidzina Ivanishvili named his picks for some senior government posts, shunning Saakashvili allies as expected after a bitter campaign in the nation that straddles an energy supply route to Europe and is an arena of strategic rivalry between Russia and the West.
Ivanishvili told a news conference that Irakly Alasania, who resigned as ambassador to the United Nations in 2008 and went into opposition to Saakashvili, would be defence minister and one of two deputy prime ministers.
Ivanishvili picked his spokeswoman Maya Panjikidze, a former ambassador to Germany and the Netherlands, to be foreign minister. Irakly Garibashvili, a close ally of the billionaire and former head of his charity fund, is to be interior minister.
The proposed cabinet also includes several former figures from the government of president Eduard Shevardnadze, which was ousted in the Rose Revolution, as well as veteran liberal politician David Usupashvili as speaker of the new parliament.
From pitch to power
Also in the mix is a man with no experience of holding office at all: Former AC Milan defender Kakha Kaladze was nominated as minister for regional development and infrastructure, and also named as Ivanishvili's second deputy prime minister.
Twice winner of the Champions League with Italy's AC Milan, 34-year-old Kaladze quit football this year to campaign alongside Ivanishvili. The campaign turned bitter when pro-government television stations broadcast covert recordings that they alleged proved that Kaladze had links with organised crime bosses. Kaladze described the claims as "absurd".
"I have nothing in common with the mafia, neither in the past nor now," said Kaladze, who still looks like an immaculately-styled Italian football star with his shock of dark curly hair and designer stubble.
"When I announced that my football career had ended, I said that the most important match in my life was starting now,’ he told AFP during the election campaign.
Kaladze, who owns the majority of the Tbilisi-based Progress Bank, was fined €7.9 million for alleged illegal political financing in August this year. But he went on to triumph in his hometown constituency of Samtredia in last week’s election.
The powerful defender forged his reputation at Dinamo Tbilisi, where he won the Georgian league championship five times before moving to Dynamo Kyiv and adding three Ukrainian titles.
Italian giants AC Milan then signed him for a Georgian record fee of €16 million, but during the years that followed, he experienced tragedy as well as success.
He won Italy's Serie A title as well as two Champions League victory medals, but also lost his brother Levan, who was found murdered in 2006 after being kidnapped for ransom five years earlier by Georgian criminals seeking to profit from Kaladze's football riches.
Kaladze acknowledged his lack of political experience during the election campaign. “There are many more challenges in politics than in sport," he said. On Monday, Kaladze said he was ready to get down to work in his first televised comments after his ministerial nomination. "There are still many places where roads and water supply need to be improved. We will do this," he said.
Ivanishvili’s victory was cautiously welcomed by Russia, which is watching its Caucasian neighbor with interest after the shock departure of Saakashvili, a strong ally to the US. Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia, has stressed the need to restore relations with Moscow, which have been severed since the two countries fought a brief war in August 2008.
He has taken pains, however, to counter accusations that he will put Georgia back under Russian domination and announced that his first foreign trip as prime minister will be to the United States.
Ivanishvili’s proposed foreign minister, Maia Panjikidze, promised Monday to “normalise relations with Russia,” but gave a nod to the US. “Our main partner will be the US and these relations should deepen. But we should not forget our neighbours, those near and far, and we should begin with relations with Russia,” she said.
Ivanishvili expects to become prime minister in the next government, although he and his cabinet will have to be officially confirmed by his defeated rival Saakashvili, who is set to remain president for another year.
The prime minister is set to take on wide-ranging new powers when the presidency's role is reduced under constitutional changes that will come into force after Saakashvili's two-term rule ends in 2013, turning Georgia into a mainly parliamentary republic.
Saakashvili has promised a smooth transfer of power, and on Friday representatives of his party and Georgian Dream launched negotiations about the handover. Ivanishvili said it was possible that he might also meet Saakashvili face-to-face on Tuesday.
He said Monday he is still working on the appointments for the ministers of finance, economic development and education. "It will truly be a people's government," Ivanishvili told a news conference.
Georgian Dream could hold 83 seats in the 150-seat parliament with Saakashvili's United National Movement taking the remaining 67, according to the latest unfinalised figures from the central election commission after last Monday's poll.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2012-10-08