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article imageGeorgian president admits defeat as opposition wins election

By Ken Hanly     Oct 2, 2012 in Politics
Tbilisi - Georgia's pro-western president Mikheil Saakashvili conceded defeat to a coalition led by businessman and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, according to a government spokesperson.
Sergei Kapanadze the deputy foreign minister, said Saakashvili promised that his United National Movement would work with the Gerogian Dream alliance which has won a majority in the 150 member Georgian legislature,
Lorne Cramer, president of the International Republican Institute, a U.S.-funded institute in support of democracy, said that the election commission could be relied upon. Politics is quite polarized in Georgia and some worry that not everyone will remain calm upon hearing the results.
Saakashvili was brought into power nine years ago in the Rose Revolution. Constitutional changes will give more power to parliament and less to the president when Saakashvili's term ends in 2013.
Thomas de Waal, a Georgia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said:"The prime minister will be chosen by parliament, which thus hands important powers to whichever political force obtains a majority in parliament in the ... elections,"
While Saakashvili has been praised and supported in the U.S. and Europe for his economic reforms, critics say that reform is superficial and that the president and his associates have too much control over the system. The opposition complained that they were often harassed and denied access to media during the campaign. Capitalizing on Ivanishvili's wealth, the president called him "the big money guy" who wants to "buy the whole system". Saakashvili also claimed that Russia was behind his candidacy and said:"We know what Russian money is all about. How it was made, what kind of methods were used, and certainly it is a source of concern."
Ivanishvili did make his money in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union but left Russia when Putin came to power. He is Georgia's richest person with an estimated fortune of about $6.4 billion. Ivanishvili claims to have sold all his Russian assets. He also claims that Russia did not want him in power and in fact wanted him destroyed.
A shocking video of abuse of prisoners in a Georgia prison helped tilt the electoral balance toward the opposition in the last days of the campaign. The opposition claimed that the video just showed the oppressive system run by the Saakashvili government.
This election will mark the first peaceful transition of power since independence in 1991. However, Saakashvili will remain as executive president until 2013. This may result in considerable conflict. When official results confirm his coalition's victory Ivanishvili hopes to be approved as prime minister by parliament.
Ivanishvili said a balanced budget would be his first priority as prime minister. During the election campaign he had promised to tackle poverty and corruption. While Ivanishvili denies any ties to Russia, he is expected to try to improve relations between Russia and Georgia and be somewhat less western-oriented. Both Ivanishvili and Saakashvili have called for people to be calm and accept the results of the election.
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