The New Georgia
The Georgian Dream won a majority in the Georgian elections, overthrowing nine years of Mikhail Saakashvili through the ballot box. Ivanishvili, the former opposition leader, has promised better relations with both Russia and America; presumably by not starting wars or curbing on human rights.
Bidzina Ivanishvili made his fortune in Russia, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the result would mean more “constructive forces” entering Georgian government. Vyacheslav Nikonov, deputy head of the Duma’s international affairs committee branded Saakashvili a war criminal and said that keeping “Saakashvili further away from the instruments of power is a plus for Russian-Georgian relations.”
Saakashvili will most certainly still play a part in Georgian politics, but this is a huge change for the entire region as before his party controlled nearly 80% of seats. If Saakashvili had accused Ivanishvili of election rigging there could possibly have been civil war, but thankfully he and his party conceded defeat in the face of international observers. Having a two-party system will no doubt be beneficial, but Georgian democracy is not only young but weak too and discourse must be civil.
What does this mean for the country? David Dreier of the International Republican Institute said “There will be challenging days ahead,” he said, “but this can end up to be for the good of the people of Georgia.”
Legacy: Police State or Democratic Reformers?
Saakashvili will leave a mixed legacy. On the one hand, his war in South Ossetia that cost lives and lost 20% of Georgian territory was ill-advised (under the assumption of NATO assistance) but it would not be unwise to remember why this was such a close and important election. Saakashvili managed to achieve stability through a peaceful revolution, and whilst he did oppress any political opposition he did effectively eliminate crime and corruption – something that next to no other former Soviet states have achieved. Whether this was through undemocratic and unaccountable means, people will remember this and he will be missed by many. Ivanishvili said that accused Saakashvili of behaving “like a toreador waving a red flag at a bull” in his policy towards Russia and called modernisation a “façade”.
Political scientist Julie George said of the country that “the standard of living in Georgia remain low, poverty and unemployment are high, economic development has waned since the 2008 war and financial crisis, and recent constitutional changes that promise increases in parliamentary power have yet to be tested.” This means we have yet to see the full effects of Saakashvili’s leadership.
- US and Russia hail Georgian vote (bbc)
- Georgian polls point to Ivanishvili win (guardian)
- Putin Profits as U.S. Ally Saakashvili Loses in Georgia Election (bloomberg)
- Georgian President Concedes But Democracy Rules (usnews)
- Georgia rejects Saakashvili party (washington post)
- Georgia’s milestone (financial times)
- The Georgian Dream (monkeycage)
- Saakashvili concedes defeat in Georgia (financial times)