Georgia Gears Up for Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s ‘Third Comeback’

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 7


Executive Summary:

  • The recent election of Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili as honorary chairman of the Georgian Dream party has set off speculation about what his return to Georgian politics means for the country.
  • Members of the ruling party claim that Ivanishvili felt the need to come back and help Georgia navigate increasingly turbulent domestic and regional situation.
  • The opposition contends that the billionaire’s return is likely predicated on growing strife within the Georgian Dream party, Ivanishvili’s personal political ambitions, and an attempt to avoid any threats to his personal fortune.

On December 30, Bidzina Ivanishvili, former prime minister of Georgia (2012–13) and founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party, was elected as the party’s honorary chairman (, December 30, 2023). Ivanishvili founded Georgian Dream in April 2012 to oppose Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) in Georgia’s 2012 parliamentary elections (see EDM, January 24, 2012). The Georgian Dream coalition won those elections with 54 percent of the vote. Ivanishvili has since left the party and Georgian politics twice in his career (2013 and 2021), claiming that he “had accomplished his mission” (see EDM, September 9, 2013, February 2, 2021). With his election to honorary chairman, speculation has abounded about what Ivanishvili’s “third comeback” to Georgian politics means for the country. Some have surmised that the billionaire’s return is largely aimed at ensuring that Georgian Dream remains in power as this year’s parliamentary elections are fast approaching.

 Giorgi Volski, deputy speaker of the Georgian Parliament and one of the most influential figures in Ivanishvili’s inner circle, believes the billionaire’s return is due to certain domestic and external factors. In a January 12 interview with this author, Volski stated, “Domestically, the main theme is a dismantled opposition [and] the possibility may arise in such a situation that the ruling party may become at ease” (Author’s interview, January 12). Ivanishvili’s comeback may be happening now to ensure that does not happen. Volski alleged that the “collective National Movement does not have much chance at winning the [upcoming] elections, so they will think of ways to destroy” Georgian Dream’s public image. Ivanishvili has a wealth of experience in fighting the opposition’s propaganda, which may be needed now in the lead-up to the October elections. 

Ivanishvili’s return may also be related to Georgian Dream’s efforts to maintain and consolidate political power to avoid destabilizing the country. Volski pointed out that the preparations for this are clearly underway, as party members have extended numerous invitations to non-governmental organizations and specialists who have experience working with Georgian youth to take a more active role in the party. He added that “the consolidation of [Georgian Dream’s] political team as well as Georgian society is important [as] neither side will profit from widespread destabilization” (Author’s interview, January 12).

Externally, upheavals in regional geopolitics have placed Georgia in an advantageous position. Volski underlined that, as the world order will eventually move from heavy bloodshed to some form of collective cooperation, Georgia will serve as a key link between the East and the West for trade and transit. The deputy speaker concluded, “In this case, more consolidation of state structures will be important. Therefore, Ivanishvili must come back to oversee this process” (Author’s interview, January 12).

The main opposition party, UNM, does not agree with such assessments. UNM General Secretary Petre Tsiskarishvili believes that Ivanishvili could be considering a “run” for president, with presidential elections coinciding with this year’s parliamentary elections. Tsiskarishvili emphasized to this author that “the position is no longer elected by popular vote, but rather by the electoral college that requires a parliamentary majority,” and Ivanishivili may intend to capitalize on that new reality. The opposition leader also claimed that, under Western pressure of “de-oligarchization,” the billionaire has decided to assume an official government position (see EDM, September 14, 2022, February 15, 2023). On this, Tsiskarishvili lamented, “But that’s no solution! De-oligarchization implies an alleviation of [oligarchs’] grip on state institutions … allowing them to operate in an environment free of personal influence” (Author’s interview January 12). 

Other members of the opposition claim that Ivanishvili has maintained control of Georgian Dream over the years and that his return to politics is a mere formality. In an interview with this author, Giga Bokeria, chairman of the “European Georgia” party, claimed that Ivanishvili’s “third comeback” changes nothing (Author’s interview, January 12). He contended that “Ivanishvili has been in total control since 2012. The nature of his oligarchic rule is that it is beyond any formal positions and constitutional framework. State-capture is what has happened in Georgia.” Bokeria also stated that the goal of the Georgian opposition remains the same: to motivate an absolute majority of citizens to vote for a change in government. To achieve that, the opposition needs “moral clarity and a comprehensive road map for political and economic reforms—a clear vision for a strong republic.” The opposition figure concluded, “Simple majorities are not sufficient to deliver a democratic change when we are dealing with a  regime like this one.”

Many politicians in the Georgian opposition believe that Ivanishvili’s return to formally lead his party is connected to the billionaire’s personal problems. David Berdzenishvili, founder of the Georgia Republican Party, said in an interview with this author that Ivanishvili “is trying to help his party win the parliamentary elections in October to protect himself and his capital from Western sanctions” (Author’s interview, January 12). Independent experts claim that Ivanishvili’s comeback is due to signs of crises within his party rather than fear of sanctions. Ghia Nodia of Ilia State University speculated, “As I can judge from the experience of Bidzina’s previous ‘comebacks’ as well as the hints he has dropped this time around, he is unhappy about something in his team. … Some kind of reshuffle may be in the cards” (Author’s Interview January 11).

Some observers point to the European Union’s recent move to grant Georgia official candidate status as the trigger for Ivanishvili’s comeback. Gocha Mirtskhulava, editor in chief of independent outlet, told this author that Georgia’s EU candidate status completely changed the billionaire’s plans to stay in the shadows. “This development allowed him to acquire a kind of immunity and become protected. It will be inconvenient for the West, if necessary, to impose any kind of additional sanctions on him,” Mirtskhulava pointed out (Author’s interview, January 12). Western countries, however, have not introduced any sanctions against Ivanishvili directly; rather, sanctions have been implemented against some of his closest associates (, September 14, 2023). In fact, as a dual Georgian-French citizen, Ivanishvili enjoys a certain level of support in the West. For example, in 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron awarded the former Georgian premier the Order of the Legion of Honor, one of France’s highest civilian honors (, January 6, 2021).

A combination of factors likely brought on Ivanishvili’s return to Georgian politics. Internal strife within the ruling party, the billionaire’s personal political ambitions, and an attempt to avoid any threats to his personal fortune have all played a role. It does not seem like a mere coincidence that Ivanishvili’s comeback coincided with his victory in a long-term lawsuit with Credit Suisse. In November 2023, a Singapore court ordered that the financial institution pay Ivanishvili $742.7 million for failing to safeguard his assets (, November 13, 2023). Perhaps the former prime minister hopes to build on this victory by leaving a lasting impression on Georgia’s political landscape.