Election Aftermath: When Georgian Dream Becomes Georgian Reality

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Bidzina Ivanishvili's party now faces a much tougher challenge than discrediting the country's long-serving president, Mikheil Saakashvili: It has to govern.

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Supporters of the opposition Georgian Dream Coalition at an election rally in Tbilisi. (David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters)

TBILISI -- The confetti has been swept up following Georgia's surprising October 1 legislative elections. And now comes the hard part.

The victorious Georgian Dream coalition faces the perilous task of forming a government and articulating a program that is more nuanced than mere opposition to President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The vote count is still under way and election officials are yet to issue preliminary results indicating exactly how many seats in parliament each party will get under the country's complicated allocation system.

Nonetheless, initial estimates project that Georgian Dream will have around 82 deputies, while Saakashvili's now-opposition United National Movement (UNM) will have about 68.

Georgian Dream faces two immediate challenges.

First, the coalition of nine disparate parties must demonstrate sufficient unity to nominate a parliament speaker and a government. The movement has already said that billionaire leader Bidzina Ivanishvili will be named prime minister, but the rest of the cabinet is up for grabs.

Second, Georgian Dream must find a way to coexist with Saakashvili's UNM, which still has considerable public support. More support, in fact, than any single party within Georgian Dream.

Georgian Dream has formed a working group -- comprising former Georgian UN Ambassador Irakli Alasania, Republican Party leader Davit Usupashvili, and Georgian Dream Party official Irakli Gharibashvili -- to begin the process of pulling the coalition together.

According to Georgian Dream spokeswoman Maia Panjikidze, the process is already under way.

"Certainly, our foremost task is to name a speaker of parliament," she says. "Of course, we in our coalition already have a certain vision in this regard. And then we will name the prime minister and his cabinet. You know the name of the future prime minister, but as to who will be in his cabinet, we will announce that later. It is still a matter of consultations."

United By Antipathy

Georgian Dream has not set a deadline for these talks, and the outgoing Georgian government of lame-duck Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili continues to work until a new one is approved.

However, coalition members range from nationalists, to liberals, to market-oriented industrialists. Until now, they have been united exclusively by their antipathy toward Saakashvili and their desire to derive political advantage from Ivanishvili's vast wealth.

In particular, the fourth most-powerful party in the bloc is the right-wing nationalist People's Front, which will have a hard time finding a common language with Alasania's liberal Free Democrats or left-leaning partners such as the Green Party and the Women's Party.

Ghia Nodia, professor of politics at Ilia State University, notes that the opposition coalesced around the largely unknown political neophyte Ivanishvili.

"The mobilization of public discontent was only possible because of the financial resources of one man, whose political abilities and motives raise profound doubts," he says.

In the waning days of the hard-fought campaign, the UNM released an audio recording of a top Ivanishvili deputy disparaging a Georgian Dream candidate using the most brutal language.

Ivanishvili was compelled to issue a statement saying that the two are actually "close friends" and that, in general, members of Georgian Dream are "like friends."

Moreover, Ivanishvil still needs to resolve ongoing issues related to his citizenship.

Days after he launched Georgian Dream, in a move widely seen as politically motivated, a court stripped him of his Georgian citizenship on the grounds that he also held French and Russian passports.

Ivanishvili has since renounced his Russian citizenship and has said he will also give up his French passport as soon as his Georgian citizenship is restored. After the election, Ivanishvili said he expected this to happen.

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