TBILISI - Billionaire Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili on Saturday chose his 31-year-old interior minister and close ally to succeed him as premier when he steps down later this month.
Irakli Garibashvili, who was almost entirely unknown until his appointment as interior minister in October 2012, has worked for Ivanishvili for most of the past decade and will be Georgia's youngest ever prime minister.
His appointment comes a week after another Ivanishvili ally won a crushing victory in a presidential election, and will fuel speculation that the billionaire is seeking to hold onto power despite officially standing down.
Giorgi Margvelashvili, a political novice, will succeed Ivanishvili's arch foe, US ally Mikheil Saakashvili, who has to step down as his second and finale term as president expires.
The new prime minister will take on a strengthened role as a change to Georgia's constitution will shift many key powers from the president to the premier.
"Our team unanimously supported Irakli Garibashvili's candidacy," Ivanishvili told reporters in the capital Tbilisi.
"Georgia will have a very worthy prime minister."
Ivanishvili's Paris-educated protege will take over on November 24 after being confirmed by parliament, where his Georgian Dream coalition holds a majority, following the inauguration of a new president.
"I want to thank Bidzina Ivanishvili for the trust he has shown in me. I promise that I will continue his path," Garibashvili said, standing on a podium next to his mentor.
Remaining in control?
Ivanishvili - who says he has achieved everything he wanted to since defeating arch-foe Saakashvili's party in parliamentary elections last year - has long pledged to quit.
He has said he intends to move into civil society after leaving office and denies claims that he will continue to call the shots.
But his influence will remain inescapable and having him as the unaccountable power behind the throne could be "extremely dangerous" for the country's fragile democracry, said George Mchedlishvili, a Caucasus expert at London-based Chatham House. "The new leadership has to learn how to behave independently, and it will take them time and effort to move out of Ivanishvili's shadow," Mchedlishvili said.
Ivanishvili's time in charge has seen a fraught year-long political cohabitation with Saaksashvili, with the arrests of a string of the outgoing president's top allies causing concern among Western allies.