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Billionaire, Gearing Up for Politics, Picks Up Spokesman
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 6 Oct.'11 / 19:21

Georgian billionaire and philanthropist, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has announced in a written statement about the intention to launch a political party, picked an old friend, Irakli Tripolski, as his spokesman.

Tripolski, who has become the first person to be publicly named as member of tycoon’s planned political team, was a director of now closed television station owned by Ivanishvili, who plans to release a detailed statement on his political plans on October 7.

The Channel 9, which was launched in 1999, was unexpectedly closed down in April, 2004 without providing reasons; at that time the closure of the TV station triggered speculation that the move was a result of the authorities’ efforts to consolidate grip over the broadcast media in the country which allegedly prompted Ivanishvili to shut down his TV station.

In early 2009 there was an attempt by the Channel 9 to resume broadcasting and Tripolski said at the time that if resumed the channel would have aired only entertainment programming; the Georgian National Communications Commission, however, revoke the station’s broadcasting license on the grounds that it was not on air for years.

Tripolski, who has produced and directed several documentary films, became a chairman of the Georgian Public Broadcaster’s board of trustees in February, 2008 after an agreement between the authorities and opposition parties; he, however, quit the post three months later citing the public broadcaster’s “biased reporting” in favor of the authorities.

Reactions to Ivanishvili’s Announcement

Announcement of Ivanishvili to go into politics came as a surprise for many politicians and commentators.

Billionaire is well-known in Georgia for his generous charitable activity, but is still virtually unknown to the public.

Publicity-shy Ivanishvili’s probably the only interview to the press is dated with 2005, when he sat down with the Russian business daily Vedomosti. Only few photos or video footage of him are available on public domain.

The first time Ivanishvili, who was describing himself as “apolitical” person, gave a glimpse into his opinion about the Georgian political landscape came in May, 2011 when he showed his critical stance towards the authorities in a written statement released by Cartu Group, an organization running his charitable activities and Cartu Bank.

First reaction from the ruling party lawmakers on the Ivanishvili’s announcement were mainly reserved, saying that they have yet to see what Ivanishvili was actually planning, referring to his anticipated statement planned for October 7.

On the opposition’s front reactions were mixed. While some hailing the move, others were either skeptical or reserved in their comments.

The Georgian Party was probably the only opposition party, which gave its full welcome to Ivanishvili’s announcement. The party’s chairman and ex-public defender Sozar Subari said: “I am sincerely pleased to learn about this decision, because Bidzina Ivanishvili has such a huge confidence and respect in the society that his involvement in the politics will definitely change the balance of power and not in favor of Saakashvili.”

Most of the political commentators were also stressing in their remarks that the decision would change “the current balance in the Georgian politics” and would also help to enliven somewhat stagnant political life especially on the opposition’s front.

Irakli Alasania, leader of the Our Georgia-Free Democratic party, was noncommittal, saying that he would only be able to comment after the details of Ivanishvili's plans become known. Like most of the opposition politicians, he also acknowledged Ivanishvili’s important charitable activities.

Levan Berdzenishvili of the Republican Party was skeptical in his remarks, saying that a businessman-turned-politician has not been a success story in Georgia.

Davit Gamkrelidze, leader of the New Rights Party, said: “We know from the recent history that one might be a good businessman, but not a politician.” He was referring to late tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili.

Another politician from the New Rights Party, Mamuka Katsitadze, said that he hoped Ivanishvili’s decision was “independent, not dictated” from Moscow, where he earned his billions. A comment similar to this one was also made by one ruling party MP Nugzar Tsiklauri.

One of the key questions about Ivanishvili’s plans is whom he will rely on while setting up the political party; it also remains unclear whether he will become a public figure or he simply intends to throw his support in a form of his well-known name and finances behind the planned party, while himself remaining behind the scenes.

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