Has Georgia’s ‘grey eminence’ really left politics?
Political observers in Georgia are almost unanimous in calling the decision of the country’s ruling party founder and leader ‘a formality.’
65-year-old billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili says that he has ‘accomplished [his] mission’ and is now handing over the reigns of the party to the team he has assembled during his party’s time in power.
As head of the ruling Georgian Dream party, he will be replaced by Irakli Kobakhidze, a politician with possibly the lowest trust rating in Georgia. And his entire team remains in place.
How Bidzina Ivanishvili came into politics and defeated Mikheil Saakashvili and what to expect next for Georgia – comments and assessments from Georgian experts.
“From the first coming to the second leaving”
Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili appeared in Georgian politics in 2011. He formed an opposition political coalition called the Georgian Dream and united within it the entire spectrum of the opposition, which at the time opposed President Saakashvili and his government.
Ivanishvili’s coalition won the parliamentary elections in October 2012 and ended the nine-year rule of the United National Movement.
In November of the same year, Ivanishvili became prime minister. But 13 months later, after his party won the presidential elections, he said that he had fulfilled his task and voluntarily resigned from the post of prime minister.
It is this departure that Georgian journalists have in mind when they say now that Ivanishvili has left for the second time.
Over the next seven years, four prime ministers have changed in Georgia. Ivanishvili did not hold any position, but he often appeared in the media, practically “oversaw” the parliamentary elections in 2016, and held many hours of press conferences.
No one in Georgia doubted that Ivanishvili remained the country’s informal ruler, and the ruling team made decisions only with his consent.
In April 2018, a few months before the presidential elections, Ivanishvili officially returned to public politics and became the chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia team.
Ivanishvili has published open letters several times during his political career. But this time he surpassed himself – his appeal took up 17 pages. The main message is that he completed two main tasks that he set for himself, and therefore can leave:
- End Saakashvili’s rule,
- Ensure stability of Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic course.
Ivanishvili is the richest citizen of Georgia
Forbes has estimated Ivanishvili’s fortune at nearly $5 billion. It was created in the metallurgical and banking business in Russia in the 1990s. Ivanishvili returned to Georgia in 2003, but lived a completely closed life – he never appeared in public or in the media.
Ivanishvili has been doing charity work for many years. Initially, he supported the Saakashvili government, then financed several large projects implemented by the current government.
A gregarious goodbye
Immediately after his announcement, Ivanishvili announced that he had donated ‘90% of his property’ – $1.5 billion – to the Cartu fund, which he himself owns.
The fund will also receive a collection of paintings by Ivanishvili, which is worth millions of dollars, dozens of commercial and tourist facilities, offices and plots of land in different regions of Georgia. The list includes Bidzina Ivanishvili’s business center and the Cartu Bank building in Tbilisi.
“All the funds of the foundation will be spent only on charity,” Ivanishvili said.
Many experts say that in fact Ivanishvili has simply transferred money from one pocket to another.
The opposition does not believe that Ivanishvili really donated most of his funds to charity, and explains his actions as an attempt to avoid possible international sanctions.
Commentary of Georgian experts and politicians
Gia Khukhashvili, observer
“We must, of course, make sure that this is Ivanishvili’s real departure from politics, and not just another imitation of his departure. Perhaps this is another ‘trick’ that will lead the country to another pseudo-reality.
But if Ivanishvili really left at a moment that can be called the peak of the political crisis, it looks more like a flight than the behavior of the winner in the recent parliamentary elections (October 31, 2020).”
Archil Talakvadze, Speaker of the Parliament
“Ivanishvili made a significant contribution to strengthening democratic institutions in Georgia, created a system in which citizens returned to power, and the government became accountable to them. He passed all political trials and now transferred responsibility to the country’s leadership.”
Levan Gogichaishvili, opposition party ‘Our Georgia – Solidarity Alliance’
“The passion of Bidzina Ivanishvili is strength and authority. Therefore, I do not believe that he has gone somewhere. The main thing is to assess where the center of power will be. Is Parliament the center of power? No. And the government, and the court, and the prosecutor’s office – they are not in the center of real power. Therefore, again this mosaic is sorted so that everyone will be accountable to him.”
Nino Dzhangirashvili, journalist
“He did not leave – he is trying to escape from the crime scene to avoid responsibility.”
Nino Goguadze, former MP
“I don’t think there is anyone in Georgia who thinks that Bidzina Ivanishvili is really going to hand over the reins to a team that he says has amazing competence. He returned to being in the shadows and informally governing the country. “
Salome Samadashvili, opposition party ‘United National Movement’
“A plundered, debt-ridden state in a political impasse. Beggars, hopeless people, at least 10 years of potential development is lost. Is this a mission accomplished? He showed ingenuity – he left before the anger of the people overwhelmed him. And also before international sanctions would affect him.”