Photo: AP Photo
Georgia’s current President, Mikhail Saakashvili, has conceded defeat in one of the most contentious elections in the country’s history.The Central Election Commission said that the opposition coalition, led by the political party Georgia Dream, had won 53 per cent and the governing United National Movement (UNM) had 42 with 25 per cent of all votes counted.
Georgia Dream’s leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili — also the richest man in Georgia according to Forbes — is expected to become Prime Minister when the constitution takes affect next year.
“It is clear from the preliminary results of the parliamentary election that the [opposition] Georgian Dream coalition has secured a majority,” Saakashvili said in a televised address, according to the AP. “This means that the parliamentary majority should form the next government and I, as president, within the framework of the constitution, will help make it possible for Parliament to begin its work, choose a speaker and also form a new government.”
This is the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union that Georgia democratic elections have brought new leadership to power.
“We think their [Georgia Dream] views are completely wrong,” Saakashvili added. “But democracy works through the majority of the Georgian people making a decision, and we respect this very much.”
Ellen Barry, who has been covering the elections for The New York Times, called it a “remarkable upset.”
Just two months ago, no one in Georgia would have imagined that the immensely popular UNM could have been unseated; but in mid September the party’s integrity was called into question due to the release of a horrifying prison scandal in which inmates were sexually and physically assaulted.
The election has been in the international spotlight since the scandal broke in mid-September. Top prison officials and the Minister of the Interior resigned, while corruption claims and extremely heated from both sides followed almost immediately. The situation did not help assuage the concerns of independent observers, who were already concerned before the scandal that fraud might taint the results of the elections.
The initial reaction was a complete quagmire. Early exit polls put Georgia Dream in the lead, but but both sides claimed victory. Supporters of both parties took to the streets to celebrate — yet official results had not been published.
The United States may have also lost a key ally in the region, as the UNM explicitly identified the U.S. as a strategic partner in its platform.
Ivanishvili also appears to be more pro-Russian than his predecessor; many Georgians worry about his connections to Russia, where he allegedly made his fortune, and he has also criticised Saakashvili for his open hostility toward Russia, pledging to open new markets with Georgia’s northern neighbour.
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