Georgia’s president concedes defeat in contested parliamentary elections
Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili has conceded his party’s defeat to the coalition backed by the billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili in the country’s hotly contested parliamentary race.
The shock defeat to Ivanishvili, the richest man in Georgia with a reported wealth of US $6.4 billion, and his Russia-supporting Georgian Dream party has edged out Saakashvili’s United National Movement and ended nine years of dominance that antagonised Russia and brought the Georgian capital Tbilisi closer to the West.
Saakashvili’s acceptance of the unexpected defeat marks one of the first times Georgia has seen a peaceful transfer of power since the fall of the Soviet Union and bloodless Rose Revolution which brought Saakashvili into power.
The opposition coalition Georgian Dream had 53% while the governing United National Movement had only 42%.
“After summarising the preliminary results of parliamentary elections, it is obvious that the coalition Georgian Dream has gained an advantage in these elections,” Saakashvili said in a televised speech. “We, as an opposition force, will fight for the future of our country,” he said.
Although Saakashvili remains president until his second term ends in October 2013, the defeat of his party means he will lose control of parliament and the government.
“It means that the parliamentary majority should form a new government and I, as the president, will contribute – in frames of the Constitution – to the process of launching Parliament’s work so that it is able to elect its chairman and also to form a new government,” Saakashvili said.
Under a constitutional reform that goes into effect late 2014, many of the president’s powers will be transferred to the prime minister. However, under current rules, Ivanishvili will still have to be nominated by the president and approved by parliament. Ivanishvili will most likely replace Saakashvili, who is a close ally to Vano Merabishvili, as prime minister.
At a news conference, Ivanishvili said: “The only right decision now for Saakashvili would be to resign.” He added: “This man was working without any opposing ideas. But nowadays things have changed.” Ivanishvili also said: “Nothing will disturb our strategy, our strategic direction is NATO.”
Ivanishvili has criticised Saakashvili for his open hostility towards Russia and suggested that he would take a more conciliatory line and Russian markets would reopen to Georgian products. Saakashvili, meanwhile, has accused his opponent of being a front for the Kremlin.