The Georgia Dream coalition, backing billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, has scored a major victory over the United National Movement of President Mikhail Saakashvili.
Saakashvili conceded defeat and promised to assist the transfer of power, although folllowing the extremely bitter election, skeptics doubt the two former allies-turned-rivals can collaborate. Having served the constitutional two term limit, Saakashvili will step down next year and he wanted to secure a parliamentary majority to make sure that an ally would be the next prime minister.
In a constitutional shift, power is migrating from the president's office to that of the prime minister and the beneficiary of that shift will now be Ivanishvili, who has pledged to serve only three years and then step down.
Mikhail Saakashvili, the hero of the Georgian Rose Revolution, was once the fair-haired boy of the West and in his first years of office he appeared to justify the expectations. He managed to reduce corruption and crime and expand the Georgian economy. His commitment of Georgian troops to NATO forces in Afghanistan and Iraq commended him highly to President George W. Bush.
The turning point was the disastrous war in 2008 between Georgia and Russia, when Saakashvilili believed that he could restore Tbilisi's control over the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by force. The Russians counterattacked and invaded Georgia. This put paid to Georgian aspirations of joining the EU and NATO, because neither grouping was willing to provoke Russia and create a situation that it could be drawn into a shooting conflict with Moscow.
Vladimir Putin expressed his desire to string up Saakashvili, not by his neck, but from a more intimate part of his body.
While Russia maintained official silence during the election campaign, the issue of Russia was a major part of it. Ivanishvili made his fortune in Russia and to avoid charges of dependence, liquidated it in a very short time.
This, his opponents charged, was facilitated by the Kremlin. Saakashvili claimed that the elections were in effect a referendum on Russian influence in the country and that "everything should be decided not by Russian money and Russian tanks, but by the Georgian people.”
Ivanishvili replied that his objective was to restore normal relations with Russia, as it would improve the Georgian economy, while restarting efforts for closer relations with NATO and the European Union.