TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgian tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili named a retired soccer player and a former envoy to the United Nations on Monday as his prospective cabinet deputies after leading an opposition coalition to election victory.
Ivanishvili, the billionaire political newcomer whose six-party Georgian Dream ended President Mikheil Saakashvili’s nine-year dominance in the Caucasus nation, intends to become prime minister after parliament convenes later this month.
He 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.
Saakashvili and members of his party promised to cooperate in forming a government - a sign Georgia’s first post-Soviet transfer of power between parties through an election will be peaceful despite fears of unrest over the October 1 vote.
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.
Kakha Kaladze, a former defender for AC Milan and the national soccer team and seen as a staunch Ivanishvili loyalist, was to be the other deputy and also the minister for regional development, he said.
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.
Parliament must ratify Ivanishvili’s cabinet choices but this will be only a formality since his coalition commands a majority in the chamber.
Western governments are watching whether Ivanishvili will push ahead with democratic advances made under Saakashvili and how he will juggle relations with Russia and the United States.
Ivanishvili says he wants to repair ties with Moscow wrecked by a brief 2008 war that followed strains over the U.S.-allied Saakashvili’s efforts to bring Georgia, dominated by Russia for almost 200 years before the 1991 Soviet collapse, into NATO.
But two Russian-backed breakaway Georgian regions pose a big obstacle and Ivanishvili has said he will pursue integration with NATO and Europe and that his first trip abroad following the election will be to the United States.
Ivanishvili, 56, Georgia’s richest man with an estimated $6.4 billion, entered politics only a year ago when he mounted a challenge to Saakashvili, who rose to power in the peaceful Rose Revolution of 2003 but had seen his popularity fade.
Footage on opposition TV channels showing brutal treatment of prison inmates deepened disaffection with Saakashvili, whose critics say he has trampled on freedoms, monopolised power and damaged the chances of his United National Movement in the vote.
“Besides the fact that we have peacefully changed the government, now we should do something even bigger, which is to become truly the people’s government and truly an honest government,” Ivanishvili told a news conference.
He said he might meet Saakashvili on Tuesday for the first time since the election in the nation of 4.5 million. The two face a potentially uncomfortable period of co-habitation before a presidential election next year.
Saakashvili is barred from seeking a new term. Reforms scheduled to take effect after the presidential vote will weaken the head of state while giving more power to parliament and making the prime minister the most powerful executive official.
Mark Mullen, head of anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International Georgia, told Reuters that the announced cabinet picks were “very good news ...
“I think overwhelmingly the people that have been chosen for the jobs are very good, some of them are extremely experienced.”
Discussions over portfolios including the economy, finance and energy ministries were still under way, Ivanishvili said.
Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Steve Gutterman and Mark Heinrich