Irakli Garibashvili speaking at Georgian Dream headquarters during his nomination.

TBILISI, DFWatch–The opposition in Georgia breathed a sigh of relief Thursday, as Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia announced his resignation and the MInistry of Internal Affairs postponed the arrest of Nika Melia, leader of the largest opposition party in the country, UNM.

Opposition leaders had spent the night at the UNM headquarters  to protect Melia from an impending police raid, for violating bail conditions in a criminal case concerning a protest rally in the summer of 2019.

But Thursday evening, the situation again changed so radically that leader of the opposition Democratic Movement Nino Burjanadze even joked on one of the TV channels, “I think we have to spend the next night at the UNM office again”.

“Very soon we will restore the order and balance necessary for the country to continue to function normally, within the framework of the constitution,” Minister of Defense Irakli Garibashvili said in an inaugural statement after being nominated as the next PM, to replace Gakharia. These words have been assumed by many in Georgia as a determination to enforce yesterday’s court verdict, which cleared the way for the imprisonment of UNM chairman Nika Melia.

Furthermore, Giorgi Gakharia, who explained his resignation as a result of disagreement with the GD leadership about the arrest of Melia, declared he was leaving not only his post as prime minister, but also quitting the ruling Georgian Dream Party, which has held on to power in the Caucasus nation for nearly a decade.

Garibashvili’s candidacy will be voted on by the parliament in the coming days and will almost certainly be approved. The approval of a prime minister requires 76 votes in the assembly, and Georgian Dream controls more than 90 of the seats.

The incoming PM served in the same role from 2013 and became known as a hardliner, but was forced to resign two years later by billionaire and GD founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, for unknown reasons. At the time, there were rumors that Garibashvili’s reputation was damaged by corruption in his inner circle.

Returning to politics in 2019 as minister of defense, a role he has served until now, Garibashvili has become popular within the party’s right wing and among conservative people in general, including the far-right.

He is considered the initiator of the case named after Davit Gareja, an ancient monastery complex straddling the Georgian-Azerbaijani border. The Prosecutor’s Office launched a probe into alleged wrongdoings during the border demarcation and detained two members of the delimitation commission from the Georgian side for alleged misconduct. 

Although the two men were later released on bail, the case is ongoing and the opposition, as well as many public organizations, call it politically motivated.

Many commentators expect that Garibashvili’s assumption of the reins of government will quickly escalate the conflict with the opposition and further polarize Georgian society.