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How will Bidzina Ivanishvili’s leaving politics influence the political climate in Georgia?

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, January 20
Unexpectedly to most, Bidzina Ivanishvili stated he is leaving politics. The ruling team praised him for it, whereas the opposition claimed Ivanishvili didn’t really leave, saying this is yet another of his tricks, which would secure him and let him avoid his responsibilities to keep his long term control over the country.

Ivanishvili appeared in politics in 2011, letting the public know via a letter. About 10 years later, 11 January 2021, he published a letter announcing his leaving politics. The letter read that Ivanishvili is going back to the life he led before 2011.

In order to develop a clearer idea about the event, we should rewind. After the parliamentary elections of 2012 Ivanishvili was a prime minister for about a year. In November 2013 he quit the post as a PM and as well as the party leader, explaining that he was going to “consult the government from the non-governmental sector.” As for returning to politics, he said he was going to do it on “special occasions,” when the country was in need for him. After Ivanishvili left, Irakli Gharibashvili, current Defense Minister, took office.

Ivanishvili returned as a party leader in May 2018, when there was no “special occasion” at place. Two possible reasons for his return were named. The first reason was that he was trying to dodge the accusations of his “backstage leadership”. The second reason sounded more significant and referred to the fact that Giorgi Kvirikashvili, PM at the time, was starting to make decisions independently, including those about the Anaklia Port. After Ivanishvili’s return to politics, he soon had to leave office.

After Ivanishvili’s decision of leaving politics, Georgia sent a special letter to its foreign partners. The letter’s title was “Bidzina Ivanishvili- Politician, Philanthropist, Businessman.” The opposition regarded the letter as the government’s attempt to save Ivanishvili’s reputation.

What caused Ivanishvili’s second leaving politics? The opposition parties named various possible reasons, one of them being that Ivanishvili promised the western countries to leave after the 2020 parliament election. That is why the West didn’t react so harshly to the election rigging. Now, Ivanishvili has fulfilled his promises, while, of course, receiving a guarantee for his security.

According to the second version, Ivanishvili, an oligarch, is afraid of USA’s new government sanctions. Mikheil Saakashvili believes that Ivanishvili, like a few other Ukrainian oligarchs, was trying to interfere in the US elections and was a Trump supporter. Now that Trump is gone, he is afraid of the possible sanctions and transferred all the money to his charity organization Qartu, leaving only 200 million for his family.

Apart from these potential foreign affair reasons, interior politics could also be a reason. The opposition has stated that Ivanisvhvili’s leaving politics is an attempt to avoid responsibility. The country is in a deep economic crisis, Lari’s value has significantly dropped, the foreign debt has increased, the population is impoverished. On top of this, there is a severe political crisis since the 31 October elections as the opposition refuses to enter Parliament, protesting the government’s rigging of the elections. Ivanishvili lays the responsibility on the Georgian Dream party members and leaders, who remain with him to lead the country.

Ivanishvili has praised the Georgian Dream, saying that the current ruling team will have no problems in the coming 4-5 years. He added that it is possible that after his leaving, the ruling team might develop internal conflicts. Ivanishvili stated that the Georgian Dream government will have a hard time staying for the fourth term.

But who does Ivanishvili think will be the next ruling team? This is exactly where the opposition force sees a hidden plan- Ivanishvili will try to remain in control through staying in touch with a few opposition parties. The opposition parties claim there is a possibility a new party will be created to replace the Georgian Dream. All in all, the opposition believes that Ivanishvili’s statement about his leaving politics is a well-masked plan that serves his interests.
(Translated from Georgian by Mariam Mchedlidze)