BIDZINA IVANISHVILI PRESENTS HIS POLITICAL TEAM

By Maka Gurgenidze (02/22/2012 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Georgian tycoon and opposition politician Bidzina Ivanishvili introduced the mainstay of his planned political party to the public on February 15. The “initiative group” of his intended political party Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia involves public celebrities with different professional backgrounds. The team will be composed of lawyers, sportsmen, human rights defenders, a teacher, a writer, an actress, and a diplomat.

Among them are well-known faces such as Giorgi Zhvania, brother of Georgia’s late PM Zurab Zhvania; Tedo Japaridze, a former foreign minister in the Shevardnadze government; Kakhi Kaladze, the former captain of the Georgian national soccer team and a player in Italy’s Serie A club Genoa; the writer Guram Odisharia; the lawyer Zakaria Kutsnashvili; the actress Nineli Chankvetadze; the journalist Eliso Chapidze; the Olympic champion in free-style wrestling Leri Khabelov; and Nugzar Davitashvili, a lecturer in advanced physics and statistics at Ben Franklin Academy in Atlanta.

Although Ivanishvili has been deprived of Georgian citizenship and has no right to personally lead and fund a political party, he hopes to regain citizenship through the naturalization process by the time the party will formally be launched in early April. Alternatively, if the billionaire’s request is rejected by the authorities, Ivanishvili’s wife Ekaterine Khvedelidze will become the founder and chairperson of the new party.

Before delineating the core group, the billionaire-turned-politician established the public movement Georgian Dream, serving as a platform for a prospective political party. The movement aimed at “increasing public control over political processes” in Georgia, Ivanishvili said in his 18-minute long speech at the inaugural assembly of the movement held on December 11. In the same speech, Ivanishvili pledged that the movement would attract “experienced specialists” to elaborate efficient foreign, economic, agricultural, national minority, human rights, regional and conflict settlement policies. He criticized the authorities for encroaching on media freedom, repression under the pretext of a perpetual Russian threat and pseudo-reforms that have failed to put the country on the right track. In Ivanishvili’s mind, the August 2008 war, with its serious consequences, could have been avoided. “Analysis of materials by international organizations shows that it was possible to avoid the escalation of the conflict,” he said and accused the authorities of lacking a “systemic strategy” that would be held up by the international community. Further, he condemned the “nomenclature capitalism” that has been established in the country for years and which entails the amalgamation of business with the political elite and discredits free market principles.

Despite his general dissatisfaction with the government’s policies, Ivanishvili praised two reforms pursued shortly after the Rose Revolution – the introduction of general entry exams to the universities and the police reform – that led to an almost complete elimination of corruption in both systems.

Cultural workers, especially those who have for years been granted a monthly salary from Ivanishvili’s charitable foundation and several officials from former president Eduard Shevardnadze’s administration were presented at the event. From Ivanishvili’s political allies, the leader of Our Georgia - Free Democrats Irakli Alasania, and the leader of Republican Party Davit Usupashvili, attended the inaugural session and expressed their support for the public movement. One month later, another opposition party – National Forum led by Kakha Shartava – also declared its alliance with Georgian Dream.

According to Ivanishvili’s plans, as soon as the planned party is formally launched, a coalition including three other parties – Republican Party, Our Georgia – Free Democrats and National Forum - will form a coalition for the October parliamentary elections. In addition, Zviad Dzidziguri and Koba Davitashvili, the respective leaders of the Conservative Party and Party of People, are considered to be joining the coalition. 

Given the fact that 73 out of 150 seats will go to majoritarian MPs in the next parliament, Ivanishvili offers his coalition partners to negotiate over the opposition candidates for each of the 73 single-mandate constituencies to avoid a split in the overall opposition votes. However, an agreement can be reached only with those who do not covertly cooperate with the authorities and share the same values as the coalition does, Ivanishvili said in an interview with the Georgian tabloid Asaval-Dasavali. In the same interview, Ivanishvili ruled out the possibility of cooperation with the former parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze who, as he said, “does not share” the coalition’s pro-western approach and prefers street rallies as a means for changing government. Nevertheless, unlike his original position, Ivanishvili said that in the case of large-scale ballot fraud, the coalition will hold protest rallies. “We will stand in the streets and we will defend our votes with all the legal means,” he said and expressed hopes that neither the U.S. nor the EU will embrace election results in case of extensive ballot fraud. Ivanishvili believes that the coalition will win two thirds of the seats in the next parliament.

Since the coalition has already attracted key opposition parties, it will certainly become a powerful political force in the upcoming parliamentary elections. However, it is not clear whether Ivanishvili will be able to maintain internal cohesion either within the planned party Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia or in the collation. The planned party will unite professionals with no experience to work together, whereas the coalition will combine political forces with a weak practice of long-term cooperation. What complicates Ivanishvili’s task further is that he will have to run parties with greater expertise in politics than he possesses himself.