By Margarita Antidze
TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia's government will face a confidence vote in parliament after the South Caucasus country's sports minister on Wednesday became the seventh cabinet member to quit in less than a year.
Levan Kipiani's resignation after a dispute with other members of the Georgian Dream coalition triggered a constitutional clause under which a confidence vote is needed if more than one-third of the government is replaced.
Georgian Dream, which has been in power since October 2012, is certain of winning the vote as it dominates the assembly and needs only a simple majority.
But its credibility has been dented by squabbling over the pace of reforms and a battle with corruption, as well as by economic problems such as a rising current account deficit and declining exports, remittances and foreign investment.
Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili dismissed talk of disharmony and ruled out major personnel changes in the former Soviet republic of 4.5 million, crossed by pipelines carrying Caspian oil and gas from Azerbaijan to Europe.
"We will have new ministers only in those ministries where ministers stepped down," Garibashvili told reporters, adding that a reshuffle was a "healthy political process".
The 19-member government has been seeking closer Western ties - a trend viewed with suspicion by Russia which regards ex-Soviet republics still as within its sphere of interest.
Georgia blundered into a five-day war with Russia in 2008 and former Soviet Ukraine's drive for closer integration with the West has brought it into conflict with Moscow.
The other ministers who quit in the past week were the environment and infrastructure ministers, citing personal reasons.
The government last won a confidence vote in July 2014 but faced a crisis last autumn when the pro-Western defense minister was fired, the foreign minister quit and one of the six parties in government defected.
Garibashvili has held the government together but tens of thousands of people last month protested against it over the economic crisis and worsening crime.
The crisis has been aggravated by a plunge in the Russian rouble and the conflict in Ukraine. The lari currency has declined sharply.
Georgian Dream must now nominate a prime ministerial candidate - likely to be Garibashvili - who must be presented to the president within seven days.
The proposed cabinet will then be submitted to parliament within another seven days and parliament has a further seven days in which to hold the confidence vote.
(Editing by Dominic Evans)