Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s party, Georgian Dream, is leading the Georgian parliamentary elections and has a good chance of securing a parliamentary majority.
"We have won! The Georgian people have won!" Ivanishvili said in a speech broadcast on an opposition TV channel.
Ivanishvili, currently 185th on the Forbes list of the world's richest people, was born on February 18, 1956 into a miner’s family in the Georgian village of Chorvila. After school he entered Tbilisi State University's School of Engineering/Economics. He later completed a postgraduate course and received an advanced degree in Moscow.
He returned to Tbilisi and registered his first co-op, a computer sales venture, in 1987.
In the late 1980s he moved to Moscow, becoming co-founder of a company that sold electronics and owned a telephone and stereo manufacturing plant in China.
He was co-founder of Rossiisky Kredit bank and Impexbank. Ivanishvili also founded Russia’s first banking college, where he was a lecturer.
In 1994 Ivanishvili left for the United States “for security reasons” and then moved to France, acquiring a home near Paris and becoming a French citizen.
In 1995 he returned to Russia where he took a stake in the Lebedinsky mining and enrichment combine.
Ahead of the 1996 presidential election in Russia, Ivanishvili supported the candidacy of Gen. Alexander Lebed, who lost in the first round and then threw his support behind President Boris Yeltsin's bid for re-election to a second term.
In 2003 Ivanishvili became board member of Impexbank, holding that position until May 2006.
Ivanishvili, by then a Russian national, returned to Georgia in 2004, after the Rose Revolution. Later that year President Mikheil Saakashvili granted him Georgian citizenship.
Ivanishvili engaged in charity activity for years, investing in his home town, Georgian theaters, religious institutions, and child support foundations, among others.
He was believed to be Saakashvili’s financial backer, providing funds for many of the president’s projects.
In October 2011, Ivanishvili, surprising many, announced plans to go into politics and set up a “genuine” opposition.
Several weeks later, he was stripped of his Georgian citizenship. So far he has been unable to restore it.
This past May the Georgian parliament passed amendments to the country’s Constitution granting EU citizens who have lived in Georgia five years election rights for five years.
In that way Ivanishvili, a French passport holder, acquired the right to run in elections.
Price of Victory
Ivanishvili has paid a steep price for his political victory.
When he entered the Georgian political arena, Georgian authorities introduced a number of restrictions on political party funding.
The Georgian Dream coalition, and Ivanishvili personally, were subjected to a record number of fines. The billionaire had to pay a total of $95 million in fines and had a part of his assets and properties impounded and auctioned off.
But the number of his supporters in Georgia continued to grow, with different demographic groups rallying around Georgian Dream: some unhappy with the ruling party, some hoping the billionaire would start handing out money, others siding with him on ideological grounds, and simply those who wanted change.
In the evening on October 1, 2012, Ivanishvili’s supporters started celebrating Georgian Dream’s election success by releasing hundreds of balloons into the air.
“My dream has come true,” a happy Ivanishvili said.