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Georgian President Accepts Party's Election Defeat
Georgian president Mikhael Saakashvili. (Photo: Olesya Vartanyan)
President Mikheil Saakashvili has accepted that his party lost Georgia’s parliamentary election – the first time in the country’s history that an incumbent has willingly conceded defeat.
Saakashvili made the announcement live on TV on October 2, a day after his governing United National Movement, UNM, was challenged by the Georgian Dream coalition led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. With 30 per cent of ballots counted, Georgian Dream had 53.2 per cent of the vote and the UNM was trailing at 41.5 per cent. In some constituencies in the capital Tbilisi, the opposition bloc polled up to 70 per cent of the vote.
“After a count of the preliminary results, it is clear the Georgian Dream coalition has won this election,” Saakashvili said in his televised address. “As leader of the National Movement, I want to say that the movement is going into opposition. As an opposition force, we will fight for our country’s future, to protect and preserve all the achievements of the last few years.”
As soon as voting closed and the first exit polls were published, opposition supporters gathered in central Tbilisi, where they celebrated long into the night, racing cars up and down the central Rustaveli Avenue.
Saakashvili will remain head of state until the 2013 presidential election, when he must step down as this is his second term. After that, new constitutional rules come into force allowing parliament to pick the prime minister, who together with his cabinet also gains significantly more powers. Thus, although Saakashvili gets to appoint the prime minister until next year, this parliamentary election will determine who runs Georgia once he has gone.
It will take some time to arrive at a final breakdown of the 150 seats in parliament – 77 of them are elected by proportional representation based on party lists, while the remainder come via a first-past-the-post system.
“The parliamentary majority must form a new government, and I as president… will assist with this process,” Saakashvili said in his address. “We have very deep differences with the Georgian Dream coalition, and we regard their views as mistaken, but democracy works by the decision of the majority.”
Ivanishvili has already made it clear he wants to be prime minister, and says he is convinced Georgian Dream will do well in both proportional and first-past-the-post seats.
“We’ve won in all regions except for Samtskhe-Javakheti, and we’re winning with a big margin,” he said. “Going by the preliminary results, we will get a lot more than 100, and maybe 110 or 120 seats in parliament.” said.
Ivanishvili radically altered Georgian politics in autumn 2011 when he emerged from obscurity to join and them quickly lead the opposition.
Clumsy attempts by the government to dissuade him included stripping him of Georgian citizenship, as he also holds a French passport. But these failed, and he succeeded in uniting most of the previously fractious groups opposing Saakashvili and the UNM.
One thing that seems clear at this point is that fears of serious trouble on the streets, caused by either side refusing to admit defeat, are receding.
Saakashvili has made it clear he will abide by the results.
“As president, I am the guarantor that the transition from this parliament to the next one takes place painlessly and within the framework of the constitution and democracy,” he said. “I am certain that this new parliament will be able to take decisions beneficial to the country in the next few months.”
The head of Georgia’s Central Election Commission, Zurab Kharatishvili, said the procedural violations recorded during the process were not significant enough to affect the final outcome.
“I want to stress that this election took place in an atmosphere of unprecedented calm and transparently. I believe the result that has been reported reflects the will of the voters,” Kharatishvili said.
Initial reports from independent observers were also positive.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which had election observers on the ground, cautiously welcomed the outcome, noting that it followed a “polarised and tense” campaign with “some instances of violence”.
“The process has shown a healthy respect for fundamental freedoms at the heart of democratic elections, and we expect the final count will reflect the choice of the voters,” Tonino Picula, who led the OSCE observer team, said.
The Georgian Young Lawyers Association concurred with the assessment of an overall calm election, but said it had filed a complaint about an incident in Khashuri, alleging that members of the security forces interfered in the count.
Teo Bichikashvili is a freelance journalist in Georgia.
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