Mikheil Saakashvili

Georgia's former Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili arrives for questioning at an Interior Ministry building on December 7 (IRAKLI GEDENIDZE/AFP/Getty Images)

Former Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili arrives for questioning on December 7 (IRAKLI GEDENIDZE/AFP/Getty)

A spate of arrests and investigations of members of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili’s party since the October election victory of billionaire premier Bidzina Ivanishvili is causing a headache for western officials over how to respond.

On the face of it, the legal campaign seems to follow the typical winner-take-all logic of elections in post-Soviet states. It looks similar to how Mr Saakashvili’s government treated former associates of his predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze. It also looks rather like the Ukrainian authorities’ pursuit under president Viktor Yanukovich of former premier Yulia Tymoshenko and her allies. Read more

Georgia’s first parliament session on Sunday since the shock election victory of Bidzina Ivanishvili was a slightly sour affair. But three weeks into the country’s latest democratic experiment, the worst fears of western capitals have not been realised – though a worrying clash may loom over Georgia’s central bank governor. Read more

Bidzina Ivanishvili speaking at his residence in Tbilisi in October 2011. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

Until last year, many voters in Georgia hadn’t even heard of Bidzina Ivanishvili. He is now set to become the country’s next prime minister, after his Georgian Dream coalition trounced the incumbent party of president Mikheil Saakashvili in Monday’s election. So how did a reclusive billionaire businessman with no political experience capture the public imagination in such a short period of time?

In the FT

  • An excellent introduction to Ivanishvili is this profile by Courtney Weaver, who interviewed him in his futuristic Tbilisi “home-cum-office” in September. “A billionaire who accrued most of his wealth in Russia in the 1990s, Mr Ivanishvili has been content to live mostly unseen, amassing an art collection – Lichtenstein, Freud, Hirst – and quietly spreading his wealth across Georgia through charitable vehicles. That was until last October, when Mr Ivanishvili literally came down from the mountain.”
  • While Ivanishivili had been building support throughout the past year, he got a significant boost in the middle of last month, when the government of Saakashvili was thrown into crisis by the emergence of videos showing Georgian prisoners being beaten and raped. Saakashvili quickly issued a statement condemning the acts as an “horrific affront to human rights and dignity”, but the brutal images brought thousands onto the streets in protest, and undermined the faith of many in the government.

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