Georgia's Election: Did Saakashvili Concede Defeat Prematurely?

It depends on whose numbers you look at.



With just 25 percent of the votes cast in the October 1 parliamentary elections counted, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili made a televised address to the nation conceding the defeat of his United National Movement (ENM). Saakashvili said the ENM was now in opposition to the Georgian Dream coalition headed by billionaire businessman and philanthropist Bidzina Ivanishvili. Saakashvili has reportedly asked Georgian Dream to propose its candidate for parliament chairman and to form a new government.

Exit polls indicate that the ENM won a lower percentage of the party-list vote than Georgian Dream. With ballot papers from 943 of 3,766 polling stations counted, Georgian Dream had garnered 53.19 percent of the party-list voted compared with 41.51 percent for the ENM. None of the other 13 parties and one bloc had yet received the minimum 5 percent of the vote required to qualify for parliamentary representation. If that trend had held, the 77 mandates distributed under the party-list system would have been divided between Georgian Dream and the ENM, with the former receiving 41-43 and the latter 34-36.

Speaking late on October 1, President Saakashvili conceded that Georgian Dream had prevailed in the party-list vote. But he confidently predicted that the ENM would sweep the majority of the 73 seats allocated under the majoritarian system. Figures released by the Central Election Commission shortly before Saakashvili's televised announcement showed ENM candidates leading in 27 single-mandate districts and Georgian Dream in 18. If those figures accurately reflected the distribution of votes, it is conceivable that the ENM could have emerged the overall winner, even if by a tiny margin of five to 10 seats.

Georgian Dream representative David Saganelidze has since made public the bloc's own figures, which differ significantly from those of the Central Election Commission. Saganelidze said with 92-93 percent of votes counted, Georgian Dream has at least 62 percent of the party-list vote (49-50 mandates) plus at least 42 single-mandate constituencies, giving a maximum of 97 mandates. Speaking shortly after the polls closed, Ivanishvili had predicted that Georgian Dream candidates won in at least 50, and possibly as many as 60-65 of the 73 single-mandate districts. He calculated that the bloc would have a total of at least 100 seats in the 150-seat parliament.

The Central Election Commission has five days to make public the preliminary results of the vote that will show whether, after all, more than two parties will be represented in the new parliament.

Saakashvili stressed in his TV address that he considered Georgian Dream's program "fundamentally unacceptable" and "extremely wrong." That does not bode well for the three-four month period of "cohabitation" until the president to be elected in January is inaugurated. Saakashvili is barred by theconstitution from seeking a third consecutive term. His political future thus remains unclear.

Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.