Georgia election winner calls on Saakashvili to resign

Bidzina Ivanishvili.JPG

Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the Georgian Dream coalition that triumphed in this week's parliamentary election, has urged President Mikheil Saakashvili to resign.

Saakashvili conceded defeat in the parliamentary elections and said that his party would be in opposition in the new Parliament.

With 97% of votes counted, Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream led with 55% of votes while Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) party trailed at 40%. Georgian Dream will have more than half of the 150 seats in Parliament.

Speaking at a press conference, Ivanishvili called on Saakashvili to resign and for snap elections to be held to choose a new president. Saakshvili's mandate expires in the autumn of 2013 and according to the constitution, he cannot be elected for a third term. He has been in office since 2004.

The president currently has more powers than the prime minister, but constitutional changes are underway to rebalance them in favour of the parliament and the executive.

Giga Bokeria, Saakashvili’s national security adviser, spoke on television to make it clear that there would be no snap presidential elections. “If someone is interested in provoking a crisis, this is a very dangerous choice,” he said.

Ivanishvili, who made his money in Russia and had been accused during the campaign of being a Kremlin stooge, also said yesterday he would not change Georgia's Western orientation and would continue to seek further integration with NATO and the EU. Ivanishvili, who was stripped of his Georgian nationality by the Saakashvili regime, has French citizenship.

The tycoon also declared his intention to normalise ties with Russia. Tbilisi has no diplomatic relations with Moscow since the brief  August 2008 war, following which Georgia lost control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The war was largely provoked by Saakashvili (see background).

In an interview with the Euronews TV channel, Ivanishvili said that he sees the three Baltic republics as a model for Georgia. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are also former Soviet republics, but are now members of NATO and of the EU.

Ivanishvili said no ministers in the current government would keep their jobs, and added that while there would be no witch-hunt, some officials who had committed criminal acts would be brought to justice.

Russian reaction

Dmitry Medvedev, who was president and commander-in-chief when Georgia fought its disastrous war with Russia in 2008, expressed hopes that the result would improve the relationship between the two countries.

"We can only welcome this as it probably means that more constructive and responsible forces will appear in parliament," Russian news agencies quoted Medvedev, now prime minister, as saying.

The EU acknowledged the election results and said its commitment to Georgia remained unchanged. "We look forward to further continued close cooperation," said Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for High Representative Catherine Ashton, as quoted by AFP.

"We remain committed to both political association as well as economic integration," she added.

Saying the election campaign was "hard-fought and intense", the spokeswoman added that the EU congratulated both sides “on the inclusive and constructive nature of their first reactions".

The 1,600 international election monitors in the country announced that in spite of some irregularities and stilted media coverage, the vote had been largely free and fair.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the coalition Georgian Dream, said President Saakashvili’s resignation was not “a political demand” or “ultimatum” of his coalition, adding that he was ready for dialogue with Mikheil Saakashvili and the present government.

“I have said repeatedly that we are ready for constructive relations with the representatives of present authorities, including with the Georgian President,” Ivanishvili said in his written statement.

“As far as my yesterday’s remarks are concerned, this is neither mine, nor the coalition’s political demand. I only stressed that the Georgian constitution tailored only to one person creates a lot of difficulties in the current political situation and probably the resignation might be the best solution to the situation for the President,” Ivanishvili said.

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."

Mikheil Saakshvili, president of Georgia since 2004, has managed to stay in power despite provoking a five-day war with Russia in August 2008, following which Tbilisi lost control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose fortune is estimated at €4 billion by Forbes magazine, last year declared his intention to enter politics and win the Georgia elections, and repair ties with Russia.

In the meantime, he established a political alliance, called Georgian Dream, seen as the major challenger to the ruling United National Movement.

Ivanishvili’s media power is built around the TV9 television channel, which was developed by US professionals as a sort of ‘Georgian CNN’. TV9 competes with the three national broadcasters that are accused of promoting Saakshivili’s government.

The climate ahead of elections was poisoned by tensions following the broadcast by the opposition of video footage showing prison guards physically and sexually abusing inmates. [more]

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