Saakashvili concedes defeat in Georgia polls
TBILISI – (VNS) Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili conceded a shock defeat on Tuesday to a billionaire tycoon in parliamentary polls.
Although Saakashvili remains president, the defeat of his United National Movement by Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition in Monday's elections means he will lose control of parliament and the government.
His apparently graceful acceptance of the unexpected defeat marks one of the first times not only Georgia but any ex-Soviet state, excluding the Baltic countries, have seen a peaceful transfer of power since the fall of the USSR.
"It is clear that the (opposition) Georgian Dream has won a majority," Saakashvili said in a dramatic televised speech after elections hailed as an "important step" for democracy by international observers.
"We, as an opposition force, will fight for the future of our country," he said.
Ivanishvili appears the favourite to replace Saakashvili's close ally Vano Merabishvili as prime minister although under current rules he will still have to be nominated by the president and approved by parliament.
At his first post-election news conference, a triumphant Ivanishvili called on Saakashvili to quit: "The only right decision now for Saakashvili would be to resign," he said.
Georgian Dream was leading Saakashvili's United National Movement by 54.02 to 41.23 per cent after 72.84 per cent of electoral precincts declared results in the proportional ballot that will decide just over half of the parliamentary seats.
In the opposition stronghold Tbilisi, Georgian Dream candidates were leading in nine of the capital's 10 first-past-the-post constituencies. Such votes in 73 constituencies nation-wide will make up the remainder of the parliament. – afp