Parliamentary elections were successfully held in Georgia on 1 October. After a tense few hours after polling stations closed, during which both leading parties in the election were claiming victory of some sort, it became evident that the opposition Georgian Dream Coalition had won the elections with a decisive 55% of the vote, whilst the governing United National Movement received 40% of the vote. All the other parties together got less than 5% of the vote.
On 2 October, in a move unprecedented in politics in the South Caucasus since the countries of the region regained their independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, President Mikheil Saakashvili in a televised message admitted defeat and said his party will move to opposition.
Georgian Dream leader Bidhzina Ivanishvili in a press conference shortly afterwards said that he was starting the process of forming a new government.
Issues remain as to how the new government and parliamentary majority will work with the President in the next months as he serves his last year in office. Constitutional changes that the UNM had pushed through parliament in the last legislature greatly reduce the powers of the president but only after Saakashvili’s term ends. The next weeks and months are likely to be challenging.
For the moment however the start of a peaceful transition of power marks a positive breakthrough for Georgia and for the region in general. It will be up to the new government now to take steps to ensure that the shortcomings connected with the electoral process that have been noted during these elections are rectified as soon as possible.
There has been a positive reaction in the international community to developments in Georgia.
Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission and Štefan Füle, Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, made the following statement:
“The EU congratulates the Georgian Dream coalition on its election victory. The Georgian people have now spoken. Both responsible government and constructive opposition are essential parts of a functioning democratic society. We call on all representatives elected to the new parliament to work together in the interests of Georgia.
The generally positive conduct of parliamentary elections on 1 October, and the high level of voter participation, underscore Georgia’s commitment to its democratic path. We take full note of ODIHR’s preliminary assessment of the conduct of the elections which considers that the process has shown a healthy respect for fundamental freedoms at the heart of democratic elections.
We look forward to continued close cooperation with Georgia on our ambitious mutual agenda of political association and economic integration.”
In Washington a spokesman for President Obama said:
“The United States congratulates the people of Georgia for the successful completion of yesterday’s parliamentary elections, and the achievement of another milestone in Georgia’s democratic development. 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. Local and international election monitors, including OSCE/ODIHR, contributed to ensuring a transparent electoral process. While the final tabulation and appeals are still ongoing, these elections mark a significant step in the consolidation of Georgian democracy.
Much work remains in the coming days and months. President Mikheil Saakashvili, Bidzina Ivanishvili and the leadership of the Georgian Dream coalition, and Georgia’s new parliament will need to work together in a spirit of national unity to ensure continued progress on the advancement of democracy and economic development to the benefit of the Georgian people and the entire region.
The United States stands with all Georgians in welcoming these historic elections. President Obama and his Administration look forward to furthering our close cooperation and strong bilateral partnership with Georgia.”