Georgians Elect President, Await Prime Minister
Now that Georgians have elected a new president in the first orderly hand-over of that post, interest is focused on who becomes prime minister once Bidzina Ivanishvili steps down from the job.
Giorgi Margvelashvili, nominated by Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition, won outright on October 27, taking 62 per cent of the vote, according to election officials.
After a decade in power, Mikheil Saakashvili is stepping down as president. The candidate fielded by his United National Movement (UNM) party, former speaker David Bakradze, lost resoundingly, taking just 22 per cent of the vote. Former speaker Nino Burjanadze came third with 11 per cent.
“I congratulate the people of Georgia on this civilised election,” Ivanishvili said at a press conference on October 28. “No one is in the slightest doubt that this election was European.”
Turnout was low at just 47 per cent, perhaps reflecting a lack of interest in an election to a post that has lost much of its power. Recent constitutional changes have transferred most of the president’s powers to parliament and the prime minister.
Margvelashvili’s inauguration will take place on November 17, at which point the constitutional amendments come into force.
President Saakashvili and Prime Minister Ivanishvili have had a difficult relationship since Georgian Dream ousted the UNM in the October 2012 parliamentary election. But some observers say the fact that they have managed to share power at all suggests Georgia may be moving towards a more democratic future.
“This clean election following political cohabitation tells me that Georgia’s democracy is maturing,” said João Barroso Soares, who led the monitoring mission sent by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
“Essentially, what we observed yesterday was a European election,” added Mati Raidma, who led the observer sent by NATO’s parliamentary assembly.
Speaking after he had been declared the winner, Margvelashvili, who was previously education minister, told reporters that governing Georgia would become far simpler once the constitutional changes were implemented. He contrasted this with the last year in which Saakashvili still possessed formal powers but could not really use them.
“Cohabitation, when the president sabotaged the executive branch, has ended. It will now be far easier for parliament and government to function,” he said. “In 2012, we brought the police state to an end, and in 2013 we have helped society heal its wounds and pain. We have also laid the foundations for a European state.”
The outgoing head of state, Saakashvili, congratulated his successor on his victory.
“The Georgian voter has spoken, and I want to tell anyone who dislikes this result that we must respect the opinion of the majority, because in a democracy, it is democracy that decides these things,” he said in televised remarks.
Figures from Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream bloc have not ruled out the possibility of a criminal investigation into Saakashvili’s activities as president, including his role in the war of August 2008 when Russia defeated a Georgian attempt to regain control over South Ossetia.
Vano Merabishvili, who served as interior minister and later prime minister under Saakashvili, is under investigation, and former defence minister Bacho Akhalaia has been given a jail sentence of nearly four years. Neither case relates to the 2008 conflict.
Saakashvili’s UNM has pledged to contest local elections next year, and Bakradze insisted that the presidential poll result showed that the party was still the main opposition force in Georgia.
The local elections will also be a test of cohesion for the different parties that make up the Georgian Dream coalition once its leader Ivanishvili has left the political scene he has promised to do.
“There is competition between the political groups within Georgian Dream, which they are currently managing to conceal,” Kakha Gogolashvili, a political analyst from the Centre for European Studies, told IWPR. “But the UNM needs a period of consolidating itself in the eyes of the electorate, and that’s going to take a lot of work.”
Tinatin Jvania is a freelance journalist in Georgia. Giorgi Kupatadze, IWPR’s editor in Georgia, also contributed to this report.