It has been an interesting few weeks for us Georgia watchers. The biggest bombshell has been the entry of Georgia’s reclusive and enigmatic oligarch and philanthropist Bidzina Ivanishvili into Georgian politics in early October. Ivanishvili has made clear
his intention to drastically change the political landscape in Georgia, and has actively mounted a challenge to the sitting regime and president Mikhail Saakashvili himself. In the course of less than a month, Ivanishvili has sharply criticised the sitting regime for its authoritarianism, corruption and lack of a sound foreign policy. He has also laid bare his intention to found a new political party to compete in the Georgian parliamentary elections in 2012, and he has offered to personally finance a range of Georgian media outlets to lessen their dependence on the state. It has also been suggested that he might run for president of Georgia in 2013. In his first public press conference on the 1st of November, he also made it clear that he and his political supporters intend to impeach president Saakashvili, should they achieve a majority of the seats in parliament.
Naturally, the sitting Georgian regime has fought back against this challenge in every way possible, firstly by depriving Ivanishvili and his wife of their Georgian citizenship, and then by raiding the Ivanishvili owned Cartu Bank in Tbilisi on the pretext of investigating instances of money laundering. Georgian opposition members from Irakli Alasania’s party, with which Ivanishvili has expressed his intention to cooperate, have also unceremoniously been removed from their positions in the Tbilisi City Council due to accusations of failing to serve the public. Ivanishvili has also received the usual slander and insults that the government controlled media and its supporters reserve for their opponents, including suggestions that Ivanishvili is an agent for the Russian security services, along with other doubts about his sense of patriotism.
It is clear from reading Ivanishvili’s political programme, as well as watching the government’s reaction to it, that his political ambitions represent a real challenge to the status quo. While some Georgians might be apprehensive about such a figure as Ivanishvili entering politics, with his wealth and hitherto unwillingness to sully his hands with dirty politicking, many probably welcome his recent shakeup of the political scene. For many Georgians, Ivanishvili speaks a truth to power which many agree with but which have been reluctant to speak about publicly due to the increasingly suffocating environment for free speech and expression during the reign of president Saakashvili. However, the entry of the oligarch into politics does not have a good track record in recent Georgian politics; suffice only to mention the fate of the late Badri Patarkatsishvili who only managed to get a fraction of the vote during the last presidential election. There is also the question of whether Georgia needs yet another charismatic “saviour” offering quick solutions, rather than focusing on improving key political institutions over time.
In the end, the obstacles standing in the way of Ivanishvili and his political allies are many and it is too early to tell what may eventually come of their political gambit. Like a real bombshell, the initial impact of Ivanishvili’s entry into politics has been massive, but it remains to be seen if the bombshell is sufficiently incendiary to ignite some spark of real political change in Georgia.