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Opinion: Saakashvili proves he's a democrat

The fact that Georgia's outgoing President Michail Saakashvili has conceded his party's defeat in parliamentary elections proves Georgia is a democracy, writes DW's Ingo Mannteufel.

Ingo Mannteufel, Head of DW's Russia service

Ingo Mannteufel, Head of DW's Russia service

It almost came as a surprise that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili so easily conceded the defeat of his party, the United National Movement (UNM), in Monday's (01.10.2012) parliamentary poll. He said he is prepared to lead the opposition in parliament, showing that he accepts democracy and the will of the voters. It signifies the first change of power in Georgia after the fall of the Soviet Union to take place in a peaceful, democratic voting process.

Authoritarian tendencies under Saakashvili

One might have expected things to turn out differently in recent months, due to the dirty campaign tactics employed ahead of the vote. Saakashvili came to power following the peaceful Rose Revolution in 2003 and was viewed as a hope for democracy by Western powers. Many expected him to implement important reforms and combat corruption in Georgia.

But more recently, the authoritarian tendencies in his approach to governing have grown. They were reflected in his treatment of political opponents and the media, suggesting that Saakashvili might not be prepared to let go of power without a fight.

A change in the constitution that takes effect next year that will see the country's president lose power and the prime minister become the most important political office in Georgia. This lent a particular intensity to this round of voting. Many observers viewed this change as Saakashvili's attempt to hold on to power because he would have been unable to seek a third term as president in 2013. They expected he would probably try to shape Georgia's future from the prime minister's office. But for now, at least, that won't happen.

Passing the test

By admitting his party's defeat, Saakashvili isn't just sending a signal to Georgia - it's a lesson for the entire post-Soviet region. It shows that a peaceful transition of power in accord with the voters' wishes is possible and can be accepted by the defeated party. This is, in fact, the most basic definition of democracy. Saakashvili has offered a great service to his country and restored his tarnished image as a democratic figure.

Saakashvili has simultaneously presented the winning "Georgian Dream" coalition headed by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili with an obligation: Ivanishvili, who has been coy about the political intentions he harbors for his likely future role as prime minister, must now honor his campaign promises. That will be difficult enough to do in the face of the many problems plaguing Georgia. The 44-year-old Saakashvili and his party in parliament will surely form a strong opposition.

Of course, in a democracy the end of one election is often just the start of another. For Georgia and for Europe, this week's developments can only be a positive thing.

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