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Saakashvili Concedes Defeat

Mikhail Saakashvili has conceded defeat for his party in Georgia’s contentious parliamentary elections, signaling the first peaceful (if still very partial) transfer of power in the small Caucasian country since it declared independence from the Soviet Union:

“According to preliminary results, it is clear that Georgian Dream obtained a majority in this election,” Saakashvili, 44, said in a televised address in which he finally conceded defeat on behalf of his party.

“This means that the parliamentary majority should set up a new government, and as president, in accordance with the constitution, I will do everything to make their work comfortable, so that the parliament can choose a chairman of the parliament as well as set up a new government.”

But these elections open rather than close a period of uncertainty for Georgia. Some big questions are on Via Meadia‘s mind:

Will the victorious coalition hold together? And if it does, will it do so without touching off new waves of corruption? Georgian politics is fragmented; there are six parties in the coalition that won the parliamentary election. It’s all too likely that what links them is the hope for spoils and patronage, and the wealth of the leader is likely to play a significant role in these expectations.

How will the relations between parliament and president work out? Georgia has something like a French constitution now, with a lot of power for the president and not so much for the head of parliament. (This constitutional arrangement was pushed through by Saakashvili himself and earned him the enmity of Nino Burjanadze, his Rose Revolution ally who got the short end of the stick. Politics in Georgia is personal.) The parliament will now be dominated by the opposition, but Saakashvili is still the president for another year. The head of the victorious opposition, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is set to become prime minister, has vowed to change the constitution back towards a more parliamentary system. Will the parties work together in this constitutionally tense situation?

What is the relationship of Ivanishvili to Russia? He became a billionaire in Russia, a country where business is pretty much dependent on good political relationships.

Georgia is very small, with a population of almost five million divided into ethnic groups and clans. It has two ethnic minority regions that have broken away and were recognized by Russia as independent republics (South Ossetia, Abkhazia), and another that has achieved autonomy but so far stayed within framework of Georgia (Ajaria). It is in a dangerous part of the world, where tensions from the Russian Caucasus (Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan) and those of the southern Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan) also mix with U.S.-Iranian tensions. The whole region is a simmering cauldron and will be much in the world’s eye as the Winter Olympics come to nearby Sochi in 2014.

Interesting times. Via Meadia will be watching closely.

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