The new public movement in Georgia, known as ‘Lelo’, has been gaining momentum in recent weeks, with 12 December 2019 being named as the date at which the movement will be launched as a political party. The movement was founded by Georgian businessman Mamuka Khazaradze, the founder of TBC Bank and Anaklia Development Consortium. The new political party’s headquarters will be at Tbilisi Central, the city’s central railway station with an adjacent shopping mall. Their aim is to win the parliamentary elections in 2020 and, in Mr Khazaradze’s words “completely change the grave situation in the country under the rule of the current government of Georgia”.
Mr Khazaradze said: “The Lelo Party will be established on December 12. Despite the fact that several thousand people have already joined us, membership is still open. I will be the one to personally meet and welcome future party members, in order to lead the country to victory and overcome the current defeatist attitude. Our party office will be opened in Tbilisi Central by the end of the year, as this is a place which is accessible for everyone, where passengers traveling from the regions of Georgia gather and the problems of every citizen come together. We will have a dialogue with each of them. Lelo will be your party. We must free ourselves of this situation through joint forces,” he said.
The Lelo movement, which has been compared to Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche initiative, was launched in Anaklia in September of this year. Speaking at the launch Mr Khazaradze said: “We are establishing a movement today. Our movement will be aimed at teamwork, the achievement of goals, love, unity and the victory of Georgia. We are now in Anaklia, where a huge project of enormous potential has to be implemented and is being implemented. Anaklia is a place where many jobs will be created and it is an opportunity for Georgia to return to its neighbourhood, region and world map once and for all.”
Mr Khazaradze went on to say: “This country should not be saved by the messiah or someone else, but each of us, so I’m looking for leaders.” He explained that the new Lelo movement will find 12 people in various areas including medicine, education and local leaders. He added that the vision for the movement is that it will be a “party of leaders” with a horizontal structure. He also outlined the need for clear timelines for the party to develop.
Mr Khazaradze is a Georgian businessman who co-founded the largest Georgian universal bank, JSC TBC Bank in 1992. He graduated from Tbilisi Technical University in 1988 and also holds an executive degree from Harvard Business School, where he studied during 1998-2000. In 2014, Mr Khazaradze was awarded the EY Entrepreneur of the Year in Georgia, the first such award to a Georgian business. He was awarded the Presidential Order of Excellence in 2010.
In addition to the Anaklia deep seaport project, he also co-founded the IDS Borjomi mineral water company with his business partners, building on the Borjomi mineral water brand that was well known throughout the Soviet Union. He also supported the founding of the Guivy Zaldastanishvili American Academy in Tbilisi (GZAAT) a private high-school co-founded in 2001 by Guivy Zaldastanishvili.
Mr Khazaradze’s entry into politics has been met with resistance from the Georgian establishment. Shortly after his announcement in July 2019 that he planned to launch a political movement in September, he was faced with fraud charges relating to an 11-year old transaction at TBC bank.
International observers in Tbilisi believe those charges to be fabricated in response to his step into politics, with Lelo seen as a serious contender to fill the gap among the electorate where voters are disillusioned with the established Georgian Dream and United National Movement parties. It is also understood Mr Khazaradze’s involvement in the Ankalia port had also made establishment figures such as Bidzina Ivanshvili, the Chairman of the Georgian Dream party, fearful that Mr Khazaradze’s influence inside Georgia would grow.