Georgian billionaire vows to maintain grip on power
Georgia’s populist billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili and his ruling Georgian Dream party are under increasing in the Caucasian republic.
Based in an estate (pictured) at the village of Chorvila, about 160km northwest of the capital Tbilisi, Ivanishvili, 63, has tried to ease tensions with Russia and forge ties with the US and EU.
Last Monday Tbilisi’s police used water cannon to scatter protesters outside parliament and unblock entrances to the building, arresting 37. But more protesters had re-assembled at parliament on Tuesday.
Ivanishvili, whose US$5.4-billion wealth is worth about a third of the Georgian economy, is preparing for the October 2020 general election.
“We need healthy forces and not destructive forces,” Ivanishvili told Bloomberg. “I will step aside when I see that healthier forces are fighting for power: not before that.”
Georgians have been protesting in Tbilisi in response to Ivanishvili’s failure to introduce proportional representation (PR) to allow minor parties to enter parliament.
The reforms were scheduled to happen in 2024, but the opposition demanded it be brought forward, saying the current system unfairly favours Georgian Dream, which has ruled since 2012.
Legislation Georgian Dream at first promoted and then defeated in parliament sparked rioting in the capital.
As a compromise, Ivanishvili pledged not to nominate Georgian Dream candidates in specific constituencies to “support smaller parties and make Georgian politics more inclusive”.
In June, Georgian Dream invited a senior Russian parliamentarian to address the Tbilisi chamber from the Speaker’s chair. Russia stopped bilateral flights after rioting broke out, harming the Georgian economy during the holiday season.
Ivanishvili denies drafting the PR legislation with the intention that it would fail and that he is the “puppet master” as Georgian Dream chairman.
Ivanishvili graduated from Tbilisi State University in the early 1980s and studied for a PhD in economics in Moscow.
He became wealthy in banking, electronics and metals before and after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
He returned to Georgia in 2011 to fund his party to challenge the anti-Russian UNM and former president Mikheil Saakashvili.
Ivanishvili blames Saakashvili for the 2008 South Ossetia war with Russia that cost Georgia 20 per cent of its territory.
“It’s crazy what Russia did,” he said. “But if we build a wall and start hate speech and start cursing each other, like Saakashvili did, the situation will never resolve itself.”
Ivanishvili renounced his Russian citizenship to become prime minister but resigned after a year to avoid public attention.
Bidzina Ivanishvili’s home in Georgia. Picture credit: Wikimedia