Triumphant Ivanishvili becomes new Georgia prime minister
KUTAISI - Agence France-Presse
Members of parliament congratulate the new Georgia's Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili (C) at the Georgian parliament building in Kutaisi, 250 km from Tbilisi, Georgia, 25 October 2012. EPA photoGeorgia's parliament Thursday confirmed billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili as prime minister after his coalition defeated President Mikheil Saakashvili's party at polls this month.
"We will take care of every single person, develop democratic institutions and establish the rule of law," Ivanishvili told lawmakers in parliament before they approved his nomination with 88 votes in favour to 54 against.
With the vote, lawmakers also approved Ivanishvili's first cabinet after his Georgian Dream coalition won the October 1 elections and ended the nine-year dominance of Saakashvili's party, which was swept to power by the 2003 "Rose Revolution".
The new cabinet includes several ex-diplomats, veteran politicians from the pre-Rose Revolution government of President Eduard Shevardnadze, and inexperienced newcomers like retired AC Milan football star Kakha Kaladze, who becomes energy minister.
Ivanishvili has vowed to maintain Saakashvili's pro-Western foreign policy and continue the ex-Soviet state's bid to join NATO and ultimately the European Union.
"Our team's declared priority is to strive for European integration and membership of Euro-Atlantic structures," he told parliament.
But he has also promised to improve relations with arch foe Russia, which fought a brief war with Georgia in 2008 and strongly opposes Tbilisi's NATO ambitions.
"We will start dialogues with Russia which will help us overcome the current crisis," he said, adding that he would focus first on "restoring economic and cultural ties".
Tbilisi currently has no diplomatic relations with Moscow, which also banned imports of certain Georgian products as tensions escalated before the war.
However, a rapprochement with Russia will remain difficult because Moscow maintains thousands of troops in two Georgian breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which the Kremlin recognised as independent states after the 2008 war -- a move Tbilisi sees as occupation.
Ivanishvili said one of his main tasks would be "the de-occupation of our occupied territories" -- a statement unlikely to please Moscow.
Parliament simultaneously endorsed the Ivanishvili government's programme, which envisages increased social welfare spending, development of the agriculture sector and the reform of law enforcement agencies.
Saakashvili's United National Movement party has said it will work with Ivanishvili's bloc for the good of the country, but deep divisions remain after the bitterly fought election campaign.
Lawmakers in parliament traded accusations before the vote, with Georgian Dream politicians accusing the former government of violating civil rights and mishandling the economy, while Saakashvili loyalists claimed that the new administration was naive.
"We consider Georgian Dream's promises unrealistic and populist," said lawmaker Giorgi Baramidze, a minister in the Saakashvili government before the elections.
"As dreams, their promises sound excellent, but in reality they failed to explain how and when they will fulfil their promises," he said.
As prime minister, Ivanishvili will gain 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 next year.
But the billionaire, who amassed his fortune in privatisation deals in Russia during the chaotic 1990s, has said he intends to step down as premier in around 18 months.
He insists that he has no long-term political ambitions and merely wants to oversee his country's post-Saakashvili transformation.