Georgian parliament names new prime minister as the ruling party gears up for elections in the fall

The former chairman of Georgia's ruling party Irakli Kobakhidze speaks to journalists after a meeting in Tbilisi, Georgia, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. Kobakhidze was appointed by parliament as the Prime Minister of the Caucasus nation's on Thursday in a reshuffle ahead of national elections in the autumn. (AP Photo/Zurab Tsertsvadze)

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — The former chairman of Georgia's ruling party was appointed by parliament as prime minister of the Caucasus nation on Thursday in a reshuffle ahead of national elections in the autumn.

Irakli Kobakhidze was named to the job by a 84-10 parliament vote. He previously stepped down as chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party and was replaced by the former prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili, who resigned last month.

The reshuffle came after Georgian Dream's founder, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, returned as the party’s honorary chairman. Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia, served as Georgia’s prime minister from 2012 to 2013.

The opposition United National Movement has denounced the maneuver as part of Ivanishvili's “political manipulations.”

Under Georgian Dream's rule, former President Mikheil Saakashvili was imprisoned after returning to the country following a conviction in absentia of abusing power. The ruling party also supported an unsuccessful initiative to impeach current President Salome Zourabichvili.

Kobakhidze, 45, a German-educated lawyer, held the job of Georgian Dream's chairman since 2021.

From 2016 to 2019, Kobakhidze served as the parliament speaker but was forced to resign following mass demonstrations in Tbilisi that erupted when a Russian lawmaker chaired an assembly of legislators from Orthodox Christian countries in the parliament building.

Speaking in parliament on Thursday, Kobakhidze said the government will work to end the Russian occupation of Georgia's breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and take efforts to overcome poverty.

In August 2008, Russia fought a brief war with Georgia, which had made a botched attempt to regain control over the breakaway province of South Ossetia. Moscow then recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states and beefed up its military presence there. Most of the world considers both breakaway regions to be parts of Georgia, a former Soviet republic.

“Today, 20% of Georgia’s territory is occupied, and 15% of its citizens live on the verge of poverty," Kobakhidze said. "We can only be proud of our work when we reset these two figures to zero: 0% occupation and 0% poverty. This is the Georgian dream, and this is the Georgia we dream of.”