Georgian election results: Georgian Dream leads and Saakashvili concedes

UPDATE: As of 9:30 p.m. in Tbilisi, preliminary results (85% reporting) show Georgian Dream leading the ‘party-list’ vote (proportional representation) with 54.89% to just 42.42% for the United National Movement, which would give Georgian Dream an edge among the 77 seats in the Georgian parliament allocated by proportional representation.  Meanwhile, among the single-mandate constituencies, the United National Movement leads in 37 districts, but Georgian Dream leads in 35 (with one district outstanding).  That tiny lead among the single-mandate constituencies is narrower than expected and it would not be enough to offset the gains made by Georgian Dream in the ‘party-list’ vote.  It explains why Saakashvili was so quick to concede defeat earlier today.

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As election results roll slowly in, Georgia’s president Mikheil Saakashvili (pictured above) has apparently conceded the defeat of his governing United National Movement (Ertiani Natsionaluri Modzraoba, ერთიანი ნაციონალური მოძრაობა) to the new opposition group founded by Georgia’s wealthiest man, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Georgian Dream — Democratic Georgia party (k’art’uli ots’neba–demokratiuli sak’art’velo, ქართული ოცნება–დემოკრატიული საქართველო).

The 150 seats to the Georgian parliament are selected pursuant to a parallel voting system, whereby 77 seats are allocated pursuant to proportional representation (the ‘party-list’ vote) and 73 seats are determined in single-district constituencies.

Currently, with around 30% of the votes counted on the ‘party-list’ vote, Georgian Dream has 53.11% and Saakashvili’s United National Movement just 41.57%.  A parallel vote tabulation by the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy shows a similar result — with Georgian Dream winning about 54.6% of the ‘party list’ vote to just 40.7% for the United National Movement.

Saakashvili conceded earlier today, despite his insistence late yesterday that United National Movement would win significantly more single-district constituencies, notwithstanding the ‘party-list’ vote.  Liz Fuller, writing for The Atlantic, questions whether he actually conceded prematurely.

Saakashvili’s statement leaves fairly little wiggle room — he declares that his party will now go into opposition, despite some harsh words for Georgian Dream at the conclusion of a campaign that’s seen heated rhetoric:

You know well that the views of this coalition were and still are fundamentally unacceptable for me. There are very deep differences between us and we believe that their views are extremely wrong, but democracy works in a way that Georgian people makes decisions by majority. That’s what we of course respect very much….

So as the opposition force, we will struggle for the future of our country; we will struggle for everything what has been created in recent years in terms of struggle against corruption, crime, in terms of Georgia’s modernization, building of new institutions, to protect them as much as possible and to preserve them for future generations and to further develop Georgia as a result of all the constitutional and political processes.

Of course, I express my respect towards the decision of the majority participating in the elections, but at the same time, I thank those numerous supporters who expressed their support towards the governmental course, presidential course and I am sure that in the future there will be no alternative to the progress, to Georgia’s development and we will all continue our struggle with this belief regardless of what the challenges of present day might be.

It appears, then, as if Saakashvili has seen the numbers or exit polls for the single-district constituencies and no longer believes that his party can pull through against the strength of Ivanishvili’s victory on the ‘party list’ vote, although preliminary results are expected later today.

As such, Saakashvili’s statement and the peaceful transfer of power to Ivanishvili and Georgian Dream will now rank among the most significant accomplishments of Saakashvili’s tenure — possibly more important than the economic reforms that have liberalized Georgia’s economy and the crack-down on government corruption.  Saakashvili’s government has not always been incredibly respectful of dissent — in 2009, it forcibly shut down protests in Tbilisi, and it has been accused of using prosecutorial and tax authorities to harass the opposition.  Saakashvili’s government was rocked by allegations of rape, beatings and other brutality throughout the Georgian prison system two weeks before the election.

Ivanishvili wasted no time today in attacking Saakashvili’s reforms as a farce and called on the president to resign and call an early presidential election.  His Georgian Dream coalition brings together Georgians of many different ideological stripes, from pro-Western free-market liberals to xenophobic nationalists, all united essentially only in their opposition to Saakashvili and the excesses of his government in the past eight years.  Ivanishvili has, however, stressed that he would like to normalize relations with Russia, while also indicating he is in no way anti-Europe or anti-Western.

Short of Saakashvili’s resignation, there will be plenty of time to effect the transfer, however, given the constitutional reforms approved in 2010 and set to take effect in October 2013.  Much of the power that Saakashvili now wields as president will be transferred to the prime minister (who is appointed by the Georgian parliament) under Georgia’s new constitution.  But that transfer will not occur until the end of Saakashvili’s current term — the next presidential election is scheduled for October 2013 — so Saakashvili, as a lame-duck president, will largely remain in control of the government until that time.

Saakashvili is barred from reelection, having already served a maximum of two consecutive terms, but it was expected that he may try to become prime minister under the new system in the event that the United National Movement won yesterday’s election.  Given his concession, however, it seems very likely that Ivanishvili and Georgian Dream will direct the selection of the first prime minister under the new system.  So Saakashvili is now a lame-duck, but still powerful, president — the transfer will take place gradually and only after the election of Saakashvili’s successor as president in 12 months’ time.

By and large, international observers deemed the election free and fair — the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe reports that the elections were competitive, though noted that the polarizing campaign had a corrosive effect:

The campaign often centered on the advantages of incumbency, on one hand, and private financial assets on the other, rather than on concrete political platforms and programmes.

While freedoms of association, assembly and expression were respected overall, instances of harassment and intimidation of party activists and supporters negatively affected the campaign environment, and often ended with detentions and fines of mostly opposition-affiliated campaigners. This contributed to an atmosphere of distrust among contestants, the statement said.

The election administration enjoyed a high level of confidence and the Central Election Commission operated transparently, holding frequent open meetings open to observers, party representatives and media.

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