Georgian prime minister resigns ahead of parliamentary elections

European Political Community Summit in Granada

By Felix Light

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili resigned from office on Monday, saying he wanted to allow his replacement time to prepare for parliamentary elections due in the South Caucasus country by October.

Garibashvili said he'd been offered the job of leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party instead, a move he said would be discussed at a party congress on Thursday.

Georgian media, including both government- and opposition-affiliated television channels, reported that Irakli Kobakhidze, the current leader of Georgian Dream, would succeed Garibashvili as prime minister, something confirmed to Reuters by a source close to the party.

Kornely Kakachia, director of the Georgian Institute of Politics think tank, said a change of prime minister would be unlikely to mean policy changes and was primarily aimed at shoring up the governing bloc ahead of the elections.

Kakachia said that Kobakhidze had gained a reputation for "radical rhetoric" against the government's opponents.

Opinion polls show Georgian Dream is by the far the country's most popular party, but has lost support since 2020, when it won a narrow majority in the legislature.

Georgia in December achieved its long-standing goal of European Union candidate status, even as relations with the West have been strained by accusations of authoritarian tendencies and Georgia's deepening relations with Russia.

Under the leadership of outgoing Garibashvili, Georgia declined to impose sanctions on Russia for its war in Ukraine, while also restoring direct air links to Russia for the first time since 2019.

Georgian Dream says it is in favour of European Union and NATO membership, both of which are overwhelmingly popular in Georgia.

Russia, whose troops garrison two breakaway Georgian regions, is opposed to Georgia joining NATO.

(Reporting by Felix Light; Editing by Andrew Osborn)