Georgia opposition prepares for power after polls


Georgia was on Wednesday preparing for a big political transition after the opposition’s shock victory over President Mikheil Saakashvili’s long-dominant party in parliamentary elections.
Saakashvili gracefully conceded a surprise defeat in Monday’s vote and promised to help the Georgian Dream coalition of triumphant billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili form the next government.
But the opposition leader — who may himself become prime minister — has already called on the president to resign and the two could be facing a period of turbulent cohabitation.
Despite his party’s defeat, Saakashvili is due to remain in office until presidential polls next year and his allies have warned the opposition not to stir up a constitutional crisis that could hurt the ex-Soviet state.
“If they plan to carry out some experiments and threaten the constitutional system, it is a very dangerous game,” the head of Georgia’s national security council Giga Bokeria said in televised comments late Tuesday.
Monday’s polls, which set the scene for a rare peaceful transfer of power in the former Soviet Union, were described as an “important step” for Western-backed Georgia’s fledgling democracy by international election observers and were praised by Tbilisi’s main ally Washington.
“Georgian citizens have set a regional and global example by conducting a competitive campaign, freely exercising their democratic rights, and affirming their commitment to undertake a peaceful transfer of power,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement on Tuesday.
The EU also praised the vote but called on the country’s main political rivals to “work together in the interests of Georgia”.
“Both responsible government and constructive opposition are essential parts of a functioning democratic society,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said in a statement.
Analysts however said the transition of power could be fraught with difficulties.
“It will be taking place in a political culture with an aversion to compromise, where the two sides just recently declared each other mortal enemies,” Caucasus expert Thomas de Waal wrote in ‘Foreign Policy’ magazine.
After 97 percent of electoral precincts declared results, Georgian Dream was leading Saakashvili’s United National Movement by 55 to 40.27 percent in the proportional ballot that will decide just over half of the parliamentary seats.
According to partial results, the opposition bloc also appeared set to take around half of the first-past-the-post constituencies which will make up the rest of the parliament, and to win all 10 seats in its stronghold Tbilisi.
Ivanishvili says he intends to become prime minister, a role that will take on wide-ranging new powers when the presidency’s remit is reduced in constitutional changes that go into force after Saakashvili steps down in 2013.
But under the constitution, he will have to be nominated for the role by his rival Saakashvili whose United National Movement party has ruled since the 2003 “Rose Revolution” but which will now go into opposition.
In his first post-poll news conference Tuesday, Ivanishvili promised to maintain Georgia’s pro-Western orientation and continue with its bid to join NATO and the EU but also to mend ties with arch-foe Russia which fought a brief war with Georgia in 2008.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has welcomed the initial vote results, saying on Tuesday that he hoped the new Georgian parliament would contain “more constructive and responsible forces”.
But the next government is unlikely to stop calling for the return of two Georgian breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where thousands of Russian troops have been stationed since Moscow recognised them as independent states after the 2008 war.