The messenger logo

Bidzina Ivanishvili's Third Political Comeback Ignites Controversy and Election Speculation

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, January 22, 2024
At the end of last year, it was announced at the Georgian Dream Congress that Bidzina Ivanishvili officially returned to politics for the third time. The representatives of the ruling party welcome this fact and announce an even greater victory in the next parliamentary elections, while the opposition sees Ivanishvili's return to power as a crisis and talks about the final defeat of the oligarch in the elections.

Ivanishvili's coming and going in politics has a long history. In 2011, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who gained wealth in Russia, announced that he was planning to enter politics and opposed President Saakashvili, with whom he had cooperated for years as a benefactor and in some cases a sponsor of his government.

Entering politics, Ivanishvili founded his own party "Georgian Dream - Democratic Georgia", which came to power as a result of parliamentary elections in October 2012 in a coalition with four parties, ending the 9-year rule of Saakashvili's United National Movement.

Ivanishvili became the Prime Minister, but a year later announced that he was leaving politics. In this regard, on September 2, 2013, he published an open letter, stating he was moving to the non-governmental sector, and already in this role set a 20-year work plan "for the development of the civil sector".

November 20, 2013, was the last day of Bidzina Ivanishvili as Prime Minister. According to the NDI survey conducted at the time, 71% of the respondents did not justify Ivanishvili's departure from politics, but according to the opposition, Ivanishvili's departure from politics was another 'trick' of his, he did not go anywhere, he was simply removed from responsibility and moved to the backstage management system of the country.

Four years later, in May 2018, Ivanishvili returned to politics for the second time and took the position of chairman of the Georgian Dream. Some of the experts connected his return with the crisis within the ruling party. Be that as it may, on January 11, 2021, Bidzina Ivanishvili announced that he was 'finally' leaving politics. According to him, the mission was accomplished, and with his departure from politics, the Georgian Dream ended the vicious tradition of the personality cult.

The opposition did not believe in Ivanishvili's departure from politics and spoke about the oligarch's behind-the-scenes rule. One of the main demands of the European Union was related to 'deoligarchisation'. The Georgian Dream did not consider Ivanishvili an oligarch and categorically denied his connection with politics.

A new stage in the history of the Georgian Dream began on December 30, 2023, when Ivanishvili appeared unexpectedly at the congress of the ruling party and announced his return to politics for the third time. The charter of the ruling party was specially changed for Ivanishvili and the position of 'honorary chairman' was introduced. In his speech, Ivanishvili said what the leaders of the Georgian Dream denied for a long time. According to him, after leaving politics, he communicated with a couple of leaders of the party, and gave advice, which "helped to maintain a healthy situation in the team". He also said that giving advice to the team by the former leader of the party is a common occurrence and that this is a common practice in many democratic countries.

Ivanishvili emphasized that his return to politics is not related to the upcoming elections, because 'unfortunately' the opposition is completely destroyed, and "if the parliamentary elections were held now", the ruling team would get 90-100 mandates without any election campaign.

Other leaders of the Georgian Dream also talk about the future victory and obtaining a constitutional majority in the new parliament, although the results of the survey present a different picture.

At the end of December 2023, the results of a public opinion poll conducted by Edison Research show that 36.6% of voters would support the Georgian Dream, 4 more parties would cross the 5% threshold, and they would receive 42% of the votes in total. The study shows that the Georgian people support the idea of a coalition of opposition parties coming to power as a result of the 2024 elections. 56% of respondents believed that the best result for Georgia would be the victory of the opposition parties in the 2024 elections, while 65% believed that it was time to give other parties a chance to come to power. However, the ruling party considers these and similar studies to be biased and continues to talk about its inevitable great victory.

How did Bidzina Ivanishvili explain the need to return to power? He named two reasons: one is the complicated geopolitical situation when even a small mistake can cost the country very dearly. He named the second reason the "absence of the opposition", saying internal conflicts may appear in the ruling party and the risks of corruption also increase, which "needs emergency insurance". It seems that Ivanishvili considers it his duty to avoid these threats, declaring EU integration as his main foreign policy task.

The opposition explains Ivanishvili's return with completely different reasons: the desire to avoid Western sanctions, to settle the aggravated internal conflict and corruption scandal in the ruling party, and to openly support the Georgian Dream in the upcoming parliamentary elections. According to the opposition, Ivanishvili's return to politics means that during the pre-election period, the Georgian Dream will use all measures not only to stay in power but also to obtain a comfortable 'constitutional majority'. Nevertheless, the leaders of the opposition parties are declaring that Ivanishvili's open return to politics will not change anything and that after the parliamentary elections, he and his party will have to leave politics for good, after which the country will fulfill the 9 steps in a short time and start negotiations on joining the European Union.