Georgia's progress: Orderly elections boost a former Soviet state
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With its orderly parliamentary elections Monday, in which the incumbent regime was ousted, the Caucasus state of Georgia has improved the reputation of countries in a region where voting has been sketchy.
President Mikeil Saakashvili and his United National Movement party, which had won power in 2003 as part of the Rose Revolution, accepted defeat this week by a coalition called the Georgian Dream. Nine years ago, Mr. Saakashvili's party remarkably ousted the regime that had run the country of 5 million since the Soviet Union's breakup in 1991.
Mr. Saakashvili did not do a bad job of modernizing Georgia. Economic development, helped by international investment, raised the standard of living of Georgians, although its economy continues to sputter. He moved forward the country's claim for NATO and perhaps European Union membership, although both goals remain in the distance. Georgia also provided troops for both the Iraq and the Afghanistan wars.
Georgia's only major stumble under Mr. Saakashvili was a 2008 scrap with Russia over parts of the country, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It left Russia in de facto control of parts of ostensibly Georgian territory. One of Mr. Saakashvili's problems in facing off with the Russians was his overestimation of Washington's interest in Georgia's situation. Another mistake was his underestimation of the political weight of Russian influence in Georgia and the importance to Georgia of its trade with Russia, which Moscow cut off.
His party's opponent, the Georgian Dream coalition, is led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. He made his fortune in Russia, is considered pro-Russian and is expected to restore trade relations between Georgia and its giant neighbor. Georgia exported bottled water, fruit and wine to Russia.
Georgians are to be congratulated for their smooth elections and the fact that Mr. Saakashvili conceded defeat graciously. His second term as president runs into next year, although Mr. Ivanishvili could become prime minister now. The new leader wants Mr. Saakashvili to step down immediately, to avoid a potentially difficult lame-duck period, but that's a bad idea.
Georgia should continue to respect its own constitutional procedures, thus further burnishing its reputation for peace, democracy and its long-term prospects.
First Published October 4, 2012 12:00 am