Under pressure and under fire, Zhvania perseveres

Under pressure and under fire, Zhvania perseveres

The Georgian Messenger
Thursday, June 17, 2004, #111 (0635)

One of the main intrigues in Georgian politics at the moment is
the intensification of criticism directed at Prime Minister Zurab
Zhvania. The PM meanwhile does not perceive himself to be in danger
and considers “Zhvaniaphopia” to be a temporary phenomenon. In any
case, Zhvania’s political future will be largely dependent on the
success or lack thereof of the government’s economic team over the
course of the not-so distant future.

The latest wave of anti-Zhvania sentiment has led some to insist
that parliament take a vote of confidence in the government. Staunch
Zhvania foe MP Koba Davitashvili maintains that the prime minister
does not have the faith of the people. The newspaper Rezonansi quotes
Davitashvili as saying “I have become convinced of one thing – the
people to not trust Zurab Zhvania. Since the people don’t trust him,
I don’t trust him either.”

The media has long ruminated about forces conspiring against Zhvania,
citing the tense relations between him and President Saakashvili,
and has even discussed candidates for his replacement such as new
Economy Minister Kakha Bendukidze and new Interior Minister Irakli
Okruashvili. It is also frequently pointed out that Zhvania as
a politician enjoys much less sympathy in the Russian government
than Saakashvili. In a word, the prime minister is under fire from
all sides.

It must be said, however, that despite his unpopularity in society
and consistently low rating over the years, Zhvania has been at the
forefront of Georgian politics for 15 years and remains one of the
nation’s most influential political figures. His career has followed a
steady upward path, if we don’t count the three years that he toiled
in Shevardnadze’s opposition. But even this proved a wise long-term
strategy, as after the Rose Revolution he occupied the second highest
post in the government.

Zurab Zhvania is a unique figure in Georgian politics. He performs
the role of lightning rod. At any time the president can point the
finger of blame towards the prime minister for any failure of the
government. Zhvania is first and foremost associated with economic
policy, an area in which many analysts believe that thoughts of
success belong to the realm of fantasy.

Seven months have passed since the Rose Revolution and Zhvania’s
Cabinet of Ministers has been in existence for roughly three
months. In this period, the government has not experienced any economic
catastrophe, which is in itself a certain kind of success. At the same
time, the government can boast of achievements that, though modest,
were unthinkable during the Shevardnadze administration.

Society judges the success of economic policy based on the improvement
or lack of improvement of their own living conditions. Though the
standard of living in Georgia has not improved dramatically, over
the last few months pensions and salaries have been distributed
faithfully, monthly budget revenue plans have been fulfilled, the
IMF has revived its program in the country, U.S. and western aid has
increased and it seems that the donor conference underway in Brussels
at the moment will also emerge with positive results. In addition, a
new variant of the tax code has been presented for public discussion,
one that is liberal and designed to boost economic advancement. In
short, Zhvania has a lot to be proud of, but what’s important is
not momentary successes, but rather the concrete results of these
successes several months down the road.

The basis for stability in the new government has been the fact
that despite expectations to the contrary, the “Rose Triumvirate”
has managed to maintain a united front. After the revolution, many
feared that this triumvirate would split up and consequently place
the country in a difficult situation. But the past 7 months speak to
the contrary. Despite numerous confrontations and clashes of egos,
Mikheil Saakashvili, Zurab Zhvania and Nino Burjanadze still find it
in their interests to work together rather than separately for the
betterment of the nation.

*Note: Zhvania has recently come under attack because he has had to
defend his maternal Armenian roots.

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