Maybe he's not so preoccupied with saving his legacy as a democratic reformer after all.
Just 24 hours after Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili conceded the defeat of his United National Movement (ENM) in the October 1 parliamentary elections, it's already clear that the ideological and tactical battle between the ENM and Bidzina Ivanishvili's victorious Georgian Dream (KO) bloc is far from over. Statements by both Saakashvili and his closest entourage suggest that they will continue to snipe at and seek to undercut Georgian Dream at every possible opportunity.
The first salvo in the postelection struggle came from Saakashvili himself. In his televised address to the nation, he again stressed that he considered Georgian Dream's program unacceptable and fundamentally wrong. With a face like thunder, Saakashvili also implied that the new leadership would try to destroy everything positive the ENM had accomplished under his leadership over the past nine years. He vowed that the ENM will continue to fight to preserve those achievements for future generations.
Ivanishvili for his part compounded the humiliation of the ENM's defeat by suggesting that if Saakashvili truly had Georgia's best interests at heart, he should step down and schedule an early election, rather than wait until his term expires in January 2013. Saakashvili's voluntary resignation, Ivanishvili said, would help prevent the current situation of "dual power" evolving into a constitutional crisis.
Outgoing parliament speaker Davit Bakradze, who had been spoken of as a possible successor to Saakashvili as president, immediately ruled out an early presidential ballot. So too did National Security Council Secretary Giga Bokeria, who implied that Ivanishvili's proposal was unconstitutional. Bokeria warned Georgian Dream that "experiments [that] threaten the constitutional system [are] a very dangerous game."
Ivanishvili has since repeated that his proposal was not intended as a "political demand" or "an ultimatum." He stressed in a written statement that "I have said on numerous occasions that we are ready for constructive relations with the representatives of present authorities, including with the Georgian president."
Whether the ENM and Saakashvili are ready to reciprocate is more than debatable, however. Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze made clear that "there is and will be no talk of [the ENM] joining a coalition government." "We exclude that...not a single one of us intends to cooperate with him [i.e. Ivanishvili] at the ministerial level," Baramidze said. Why Baramidze made that statement is unclear, given that Ivanishvili had already said that not a single current minister could become a member of his team.
Bakradze for his part said that in its capacity as parliamentary opposition, the ENM would monitor closely the extent to which Georgian Deal delivers on its election campaign promises. He said he is "very interested" to see how KO sets about fulfilling the "social commitments it made so prolifically" during the election campaign.
Meanwhile, Georgian Dream has signaled its intention of utilizing its victory to the full, by holding its defeated rival responsible for suspected electoral violations. Former human rights ombudsman and leading KO member Sozar Subari has said a commission will be formed to probe alleged violations in the course of the October 1 vote.
A second leading KO figure, former Georgian Ambassador to the UN Irakli Alasania, who ran as the bloc's candidate in the western town of Zugdidi, has called for the results of the vote there to be annulled and a repeat ballot scheduled. Alasania claims the outcome was rigged in favor of ENM candidate Roland Akhalaia, father of now-disgraced former Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia, who resigned last month in the wake of the protests triggered by revelations of torture in Georgian prisons.
Ivanishvili has made clear that the new leadership will not proceed with one of Saakashvili's most cherished schemes, the construction of a huge new port, Lazika, on Georgia's Black Sea coast. Saakashvili had pledged at a campaign rally on September 23 that "I will not quit politics without turning Lazika into the most brilliant city on the Black Sea."
The latest, still incomplete data released by the Central Election Commission suggest that Georgian Dream will have some 82 parliament mandates, compared with 68 for the ENM. That is enough for Georgian Dream to endorse its candidate for prime minister (almost certainly Ivanishvili himself), but fewer than the 100 needed to amend the constitution.
Georgian Dream is also likely to face problems at the level of local government. All provincial governors are ENM stalwarts appointed personally by Saakashvili, as are lower-level district heads. And unlike under former President Eduard Shevardnadze, the ENM in its capacity as (now former) ruling party currently has a virtual monopoly on membership of district councils.
Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.