Georgia evolves : A former Soviet state continues to look to the west

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Georgia, a state in the Caucasus formerly part of the Soviet Union, held elections Sunday, replacing one freely elected civilian president with another from a different political party.

The winner was Giorgi Margvelashvili of the Georgian Dream party, who will succeed Mikheil Saakashvili of the United National Movement party, who was elected president twice, in 2004 and 2008 in the wake of the 2003 Rose Revolution. Turnout was 47 percent, less than the 61 percent that voted in last year's parliamentary elections.

In Georgia money talks loudly and Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has a fortune of $5 billion, had backed Mr. Margvelashvili. New rules, which will take effect on the president's inauguration in January, put most power in the hands of the prime minister. The choice of a successor to Mr. Ivanishvili will be very important. Georgian Dream beat the United National Movement in the partliamentary elections and will choose the new prime minister.

Georgia has not had an easy time since the breakup of the Soviet Union. In the wake of a war in 2008 with neighboring giant Russia, two of Georgia's provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, claim to have seceded from Georgia, declaring independence under the large wing of Russia.

The United States during the administration of President George W. Bush began military assistance to Georgia, but left it flat when Georgia's problems with Russia led to war. Georgia nonetheless has provided troops to the U.S. efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Under past, present and future governments it sees itself, with a population that is 89 percent Christian, as a Western nation -- one that aspires to membership in both NATO and the European Union. Its location and its internal situation, replete with charges of corruption and human rights abuses, push the likelihood of fulfillment of those aspirations into the future, but the successful elections Sunday help build the Georgians' case.

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