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Ivanishvili returns to frontline Georgian politics

26 April 2018
Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Bidzina Ivanishvili, and Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze (Georgian Dream)

Georgia’s former prime minister, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, is to make a return to frontline politics to lead the Georgian Dream party he founded in 2012. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili announced that ‘on behalf of the party’ he had asked Ivanishvili to lead them, ‘to which he said yes’. He will be re-elected as chairman of the party, according to Kvirikashvili.

Since officially withdrawing from politics in 2013, just a year after being elected prime minister, Ivanishvili has been accused by many of continuing to exert control over the government of the ruling Georgian Dream party from behind the scenes.

Party leaders held a meeting on Thursday in which Ivanishvili was present, though officials did not confirm this. Kvirikashvili started his briefing by announcing he had ‘an important news’ to share.

‘He is the most capable person to strengthen the main political sphere as chairman, to give it a new dynamic to develop further efficiency and progress’, Kvirikashvili said.

He said the party’s political council will meet in the coming days and insisted he is sure congress and the delegates would elect Ivanishvili as the new chairman. Kvirikashvili currently chairs the party, as well as being prime minister.

‘I’m sure this decision will positively affect the political life of our country. This is going to be a new impulse for us, for each member of Georgian Dream, for the team as personally for me as prime minister’, Kvirikashvili said.

Initially, he reiterated that there was an ‘urgent need for strengthening Georgian Dream amidst new challenges’. ‘We all understand how big a factor our founder is for our team’, the PM said.

Opposition reacts

The opposition criticised the decision, saying Ivanishvili's return speaks to a crisis in the ruling party.

Salome Samadashvili, an MP from the United National Movement (UNM) said Ivanishvili should take responsibility for the problems the country is facing.

‘His return means the ruling party is collapsing and they have called on a supreme authority. Nobody else can settle the situation in the party. I think him becoming party chairman is not a bad thing; he’s been ruling the party informally for a long time. He needs to be formalised and become chairman of the party which rules the country in his name’, Samadashvili said.

Giga Bokeria, one of the leaders of European Georgia, said ‘Kvirkkashvili’s resignation and Ivanishvili’s appointment as a chairman can’t save the country’.

‘The country can be saved only one way — the whole team should be removed from their ruling positions through elections, peacefully’, Bokeria said.

Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze told journalists that talks about Ivanishvili’s return had been going on for some time.

‘The PM has asked him to return to Georgian Dream numerous times. The decision he has made will contribute to the development of the country, to strengthening the country’s democratic institutions, the role of the party will be strengthened, etc. As for the current party chairman, Giorgi Kvirikashvili is the PM and he will continue doing his job’, Kaladze said.

Davit Chichinadze, an MP from Georgian Dream, said his return will put an end to ‘questions and inconveniences that there is an informal ruler’.

‘It’s good that he will be participating in the processes officially. We will all be able to interact with him’, Chichinadze told TV Pirveli.

A former advisor to Ivanishvili, Gia Khukhashvili, said the former PM made the right decision by returning to politics as ‘Georgian Dream has been heading towards serious management crisis, creating risks of state instability’.

‘Therefor his decision was the right thing to do. What has been going on in a ruling party lately was not an internal confrontation but a chaos’, Khukhashvili told Liberali.

‘Second coming’

Ivanishvili has been asked about his possible return to politics in the past. In 2015, he said returning would not be the right thing to do, but if he did, it would be ‘like the second coming’.

‘Society must understand that they own this country. Thus I think my return would not be right unless there is such a necessity and god forbid it will be so. I would compare my possible return to a second coming. Some kind of disaster must be happening for it’, Ivanishvili said in 2015.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, a Georgian businessman who made his fortune in Russia, served as prime minister of Georgia in 2012–2013. He founded the Georgian Dream coalition which came to power after winning the 2012 parliamentary elections, defeating the incumbent United National Movement party (UNM). He voluntarily resigned in 2013, succeeded by his former business executive, Irakli Gharibashvili.

While he insisted he had left politics, party leaders have continued to rely on him for consultations. Opposition parties and rights groups have insisted that Ivanishvili still holds influence over Georgian politics, labelling him ‘an informal ruler’.