Bidzina Ivanishvili doesn’t like politics; he said so recently, according to French paper l’Express. He said ‘two, three years maximum, that’s how long I’ll stay in’. Other media quote him saying that learning how to be a politician later in life is hard.
Yet at the head of a coalition of parties known as Georgian Dream, of which he is the founder, Ivanishvili has reshaped the political scene in Georgia over the space of just 12 months.
He identified voters’ concerns about poverty and corruption.
But he is worth a fortune: $6.4 billion, he has confirmed (about 5 billion euros). He made that mainly in Russia, through a range of businesses, including banking, metals and selling computers.
He had his futuristic personal palace above Tbilisi built by a famous Japanese architect; he collects art – and penguins, kangaroos and lemurs. But he was born into a poor family, in the village of Chorvila.
He got a Ph.D in economics in Moscow and before that studied engineering in Tbilisi.
After the “Rose Revolution” of 2003 that overthrew ex-Soviet rulers in Georgia, Ivanishvili returned from France, where he was living (he now has French citizenship), and says he was active behind the statecraft of the new president in Tbilisi: Mikheil Saakashvili.
He says he always kept quiet about it till recently, but that 1.7 billion dollars (around 1.3 billion euros) of his money went towards realising revolutionary reforms, such as of the police, army and civil service. Saakashvili denies this. But ordinary Georgians back him up, saying he has paved roads, built homes and given households cash.
Whether he works in conventional ways or not, he owns one of the two television stations opposed to Saakashvili which last month released video footage of torture, beatings and sexual assault of prison inmates. Saakashvili’s image as a reformer who had imposed the rule of law and rooted out corruption was seriously undermined.
Ivanishvili won votes by promising to tackle problems which he blamed on Saakashvili.
Reforms that are to take effect after a presidential election due to be held next year will weaken the head of state while handing more power to parliament and the prime minister, who is to be the most powerful executive official.