“This is the first time in my life I had a feeling that we have a democracy here,” said Tamar Chugoshvili, chairwoman of the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, who was astonished that Saakashvili had lost but pleased that real opposition had emerged. “I think the majority of the Georgian population shares this feeling.”
Parties led by Saakashvili and his rival, a billionaire businessman named Bidzina Ivanishvili, ran bitterly antagonistic races leading up to Monday’s election, each accusing the other of serious campaign violations, assaults and various dirty tricks. Violence was expected — and fears of civil war were raised — in the event that either side decided the election was rigged and refused to accept the results. Saakashvili’s concession appeared to dissipate the threat.
“I express my respect toward the decision of the majority participating in the elections,” Saakashvili said Tuesday, adding his assurances that the new Parliament would elect a chairman and form a government.
Ivanishvili was not as quick to revert to a conciliatory tone, calling Saakashvili’s democratic reforms a joke based on lies.
The White House congratulated Georgia for the democratic milestone. “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,” a statement from the press secretary said.
‘Challenging days ahead’
The election was monitored by hundreds of international observers, including teams from the Washington-based International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute. “We have gone through the single most competitive election in the history of the country,” said Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), who was an IRI delegation leader.
Dreier spoke just before leaving for a meeting at the home of Ivanishvili, who is expected to be the next prime minister.
In comments that might surprise their colleagues in Washington, Dreier said he and other members of Congress were determined to offer Georgians and the new Parliament help in developing ways to work together across political divides.
“There will be challenging days ahead,” he said, “but this can end up to be for the good of the people of Georgia.”
With the votes still being counted, it appeared that Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition had won about 54 percent of the vote and Saakashvili’s United National Movement 41 percent. Until now, Saakashvili has controlled 79 percent of the seats in Parliament.