Flight into the shadows: why Georgia’s richest oligarch left politics

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Oligarch and leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party Bidzina Ivanishvili announced his retirement from politics. “I am leaving both the post of party chairman and the party itself and returning to normal life,” he said. According to Ivanishvili, without him, the government in Georgia will become even more energetic and viable. Izvestia understood the reasons and possible consequences of the billionaire’s decision.

mission Possible

Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire and leader of the Georgian Dream party, announced his retirement from politics. His open letter was published on the party’s website. “I believe that my mission has been accomplished and I decided to hand over the reins of government. The ruling team today is the best and no alternative among the existing political players. I am sure that these people will be able to replace my work, authority and skills, ”he said.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, billionaire and leader of the Georgian Dream party

Bidzina Ivanishvili, billionaire and leader of the Georgian Dream party

Photo: TASS / David Mdzinarishvili

The oligarch also detailed the reasons that prompted him to leave politics. One of the factors was age – in February Ivanishvili will turn 65 years old. “My step is dictated by the desire to highlight the youth. I believe that he will not only not weaken, but even further strengthen the ruling party, make it more viable and motivated, and at the same time revive our supporters and the government, ”the billionaire said.

In addition, Ivanishvili said that achieved the goals for which he founded a political party in 2011. According to him, he wanted through elections put an end to the “inhuman and undemocratic” regime of Mikhail Saakashvili. At the same time, he planned to help Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. In his opinion, both goals were achieved. “We removed the violent regime from power without bloodshed. We continue to enjoy the strong support of our main strategic ally, the United States, as well as our European partners. Georgia is a small but influential democracy not only in the post-Soviet space, but also in Eastern Europe“, – Ivanishvili stressed.

Dream against Saakashvili

Bidzina Ivanishvili is the richest person in Georgia, the only representative of the country in the list of world billionaires by Forbes magazine. In 2020, the oligarch ranked 349th in the ranking with a fortune of $ 4.8 billion. It is known that Ivanishvili owns real estate in Georgia, Russia and France, collects paintings.

In 2011, Ivanishvili became actively involved in politics, announced his intention to create a party. At that moment, the second presidential term of Mikhail Saakashvili was coming to an end, but the head of state managed to amend the country’s constitution. The amendments assumed the strengthening of the parliament and the prime minister. The opposition insisted that Saakashvili decided to make changes for the sake of his own political future – allegedly he intends to retain power, moving to the chair of the head of government. Ivanishvili called on the president to resign. “Saakashvili made such unforgivable mistakes that in his place any sober-minded politician would ask the people for forgiveness and leave ahead of schedule,” he said.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, former prime minister and leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party

Bidzina Ivanishvili, former prime minister and leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party

Photo: TASS / David Mdzinarishvili

Saakashvili was not going to give up. By his decree, he deprived Ivanishvili of his citizenship, without documents he could neither register a party nor participate in elections. As a result, the tycoon’s wife, Yekaterina, became the formal head of the Georgian Dream. In addition, a Tbilisi court sentenced Ivanishvili to fines of $ 90 million for bribing voters.

Parliamentary elections were held in October 2012. “Georgian Dream” received the majority of votes, Ivanishvili himself became prime minister. Saakashvili lost his majority in parliament and his associates in the government, which led to a sharp decline in his influence. In 2013, his second presidential term ended and he left the country. Law enforcement agencies began to investigate Saakashvili’s activities as head of state. He was charged in absentia with abuse of office, embezzlement of budgetary funds and murder, but official Tbilisi failed to extradite the former president.

The new presidential election was won by Georgian Dream candidate, Minister of Education and Science Giorgi Margvelashvili. After that, Ivanishvili left the post of prime minister and for the first time announced his retirement from politics. De facto, however, continued to influence important decisions… In 2018, he unexpectedly returned and again took over as chairman of the Georgian Dream. Observers then said that Ivanishvili had to return, as there was a split in the party.

New parliamentary elections were held in Georgia in October 2020. “Georgian Dream” won the majority for the third time in a row. Opposition parties did not agree with the voting results, and a political crisis erupted. At first, Ivanishvili’s opponents went out to protest and even frightened him with the revolution. Then they refused mandates. Ivanishvili himself called the new victory of the “Georgian Dream” historic. “These elections have shown in the most clear way that the long-term practice of manipulating people’s feelings and changing the will of the people in various ways has come to an end,” he rejoiced.

It’s time to get out

Georgian politicians reacted differently to Ivanishvili’s decision. The oligarch’s supporters have announced a serious challenge. “Ivanishvili once again confirmed that the government has never been attractive to him. This is a completely different, democratic and moral standard. But now a special responsibility falls on the team and on each of us, ”said the leader of the parliamentary majority Irakli Kobakhidze.

Oppositionists have a different opinion. “He shifted responsibility to his team and went into the shadows. This is just a declared flight “– said one of the leaders of the United National Movement, Khatia Dekanoidze.

Opposition protesters hung up banknotes depicting the chairman and founder of the ruling party in Georgia "Georgian dream" Bidzina Ivanishvili

Photo: RIA Novosti / Stringer

Experts say Ivanishvili may maintain influence. Nikolai Silaev, a leading researcher at the Center for Caucasus Problems and Regional Security at MGIMO, recalls that the billionaire has already left political activity. “At the same time, he continued to influence the party and Georgian politics. I do not exclude this option even now. Formally, Ivanishvili will leave, but in reality he will continue to resolve issues behind the scenes“, – says the expert in an interview with Izvestia.

Silaev connects the oligarch’s decision with the political crisis in the country. “His party was left alone in parliament. The picture is unsightly. Apparently, the task is to make the connection between the billionaire and the ruling party less obvious. Perhaps Ivanishvili is counting on reciprocal concessions from the opposition, hoping that opponents will still return to the parliamentary session hall“, – he notes.

Political scientist Artur Atayev believes that Ivanishvili is really burdened by politics. “He rarely appears in public, he himself has repeatedly said that he dreams of concentrating, doing more yoga. But he will not be able to really leave with all the desire. There is simply no one to replace him, there is no longer a heavyweight of this level in Georgia. He was already trying to leave, then his party almost collapsed. The party members quarreled, an internal war began. Probably, now he will have to control the processes. In addition, in the post-Soviet space, leaving politics leads to the loss of economic resources. It is unlikely that Ivanishvili is ready for this “, – emphasizes the interlocutor.

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