Georgia's richest man, ex-PM returns to politics to chair ruling party

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia’s former prime minister and richest man, Bidzina Ivanishvili, is making a political comeback and will chair the ruling Georgian Dream party, the prime minister said on Thursday.

Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition won control of parliament in October 2012, defeating the party of ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, leader of the 2003 Rose Revolution.

The coalition later split, but Georgian Dream won a parliamentary election in 2016, cementing its status as the ruling party in the ex-Soviet country of 3.7 million.

Ivanishvili stepped down from the posts of prime minister and party chairman in 2013, though critics accused him of ruling from behind the scenes afterwards anyway.

“I’ve offered and asked the founder of the party on behalf of myself and the entire team to lead the party and I’m glad that Bidzina Ivanishvili agreed,” Giorgi Kvirikashvili, the prime minister and incumbent party chairman, told reporters.

“There is a need to strengthen... the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party against the backdrop of new challenges facing the country.”

Kvirikashvili said that Ivanishvili, a billionaire tycoon, who made his fortune in the 1990s in Russia, was “best placed to contribute to more effectiveness and progress in the executive and legislative branches, as well as in municipal bodies.”

The decision came amid tensions among party members over different issues.

Ivanishvili’s candidacy is expected to be approved by the party congress in May.

Reporting by Margarita Antidze; editing by Angus MacSwan