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Saakashvili's party loses as Georgian democracy takes step forward (+video)

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili announced that his party would go into opposition, after being topped by the party of Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili in Monday's elections.

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Yet the question remains, what will actually happen to his coalition once it assumes Parliament? It is made up of six parties representing a wide array of political viewpoints and includes liberals, nationalists, and xenophobes.

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Nana Sumbadze, codirector of the Institute for Policy Studies, does not know how much control Ivanishvili will have on this loose coalition, but surmises “it will be more interesting and pluralistic.” 

As for the UNM, she foresees its disintegration, as that has been the pattern of Georgia’s power transfers.

“They weren’t united by ideology, but by power. And when Saakashvili’s presidential term is up next year, they will have no leader. We’ll see disintegration,” she says. “But it would be better if they stay as a party,” she adds.

Success through opposition

Some observers expect Saakashvili to be able to turn this loss into a victory, as he is not only seen as the man who turned a failed state into a modernizing nation, but he has shown a commitment to democratic principles by not interfering in the voting process. Levan Ramishvili, chair of the Tbilisi think tank Liberty Institute, concedes that some opportunistic UNM members will jump sides, but those who stay for idealistic purposes will strengthen the party. 

“The [United] National Movement might become a quite capable opposition party as long as they don’t become bitter, and remain critical and cooperate with the Georgian Dream when they can,” Mr. Ramishvili says.

He points to Ukraine, where, despite its lack of economic and democratic process, nothing catastrophic occurred after the change of its revolutionary government. “This is something similar.”

In 2009, when mass opposition protests in Tbilisi demanded Saakashvili's resignation, the president quipped that if he was an opposition leader he could topple his own government. But by conceding defeat today and announcing his move into opposition, he has in effect acknowledged that Georgia has outgrown the pattern of toppling one-party governments and proved his critics, who believed he could not give up power, wrong. 

Mark Mullen, chair of Transparency International Georgia, sees a new era of Georgian politics emerging, where one party no longer rules the country and in effect becomes the state. 

“Parties must now cooperate and these guys, Misha and Ivanishvili have to get along for a year, because Misha’s still president," he says, using a common Georgian nickname for Saakashvili. "That’s new. They’re going to have to share power. It’s necessary in a democracy.”

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