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Inside Story
A new era for Georgia
As the country's president concedes defeat in parliamentary elections, how will a new government impact the region?
Last Modified: 03 Oct 2012 11:49

A year ago, hardly anyone knew what he looked like, but now billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili is the next prime minister of Georgia.

"Russian officials are tight-lipped over the elections ... because the result is actually a double-edged sword ... on one hand it seems that Moscow's archrival President Saakashvili was humiliated .... But on the other hand the question is whether ... the new Georgian government would be ... more co-operative with Moscow and here we still have doubts over that."

- Sergei Strokan, a columnist and political analyst

He beat the party of President Mikhail Saakashvili, who has led the country since 2003.

On Tuesday, Saakashvili conceded he had lost the closely fought parliamentary vote.

Ivanishvili and his party, the Georgian Dream coalition, are now expected to form the new government. It means the first democratic transfer of power in Georgia's post-Soviet history.

Saakashvili will remain in office until presidential elections a year from now.

But under a law adopted in 2010, most of the president's powers will be transferred to the prime minister after Saakashvili's term ends in 2013.

And until then, the new prime minister has promised to work together with the outgoing president.

"We are seeing the situation [in Georgia] where the transfer of power from incumbent to opposition [is taking place] purely through the ballot box ... so in that sense this is remarkable for Georgian maturity .... but for Georgians themselves ... you may find that there are increased trade links with Russia and that will begin to ... trickle down into Georgians' daily lives."

- James Nixey, a research fellow at Chatham House

So who is Bidzina Ivanishvili?

He is a billionaire who heads the Georgian Dream coalition. Until last year he avoided public appearances but then announced he was entering politics.

Ivanishvili has promised to stay in the job for only two years, after which he says he will step aside to allow professional politicians to take over.

Some of his opponents accuse him of being a Russian stooge.

So, is Saakashvili's era coming to an end in Georgia? What does it mean for the former Soviet Republic? And why does Georgia matter?

Inside Story, with presenter Hazem Sika, discusses with guests: Eka Gigauri, the executive director of Transparency International, Georgia; Sergei Strokan, a political analyst, a columnist and host of the programme, Red Line, a current affairs show in Russia; and James Nixey, a research fellow at Chatham House and an analyst on the Caucasus.

"[There was] selective application of the law [in the pre-election phase] ... [and] in some ways it had the opposite effect because the people in Georgia thought that this unfair treatment of the opposition was not good and some people really supported the opposition because of that ... at the end of the day the Georgian population had the possibility to express their opinion during this election."

Eka Gigauri, the executive director of Transparency International, Georgia

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GEORGIA'S RECENT HISTORY

  • In 1991, Georgians voted overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum. Georgia left the Soviet Union and Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected president
  • One year later, fighting broke out between the government and the opposition forces. Gamsakhurdia was deposed and Eduard Shevardnadze came into power
  • In 2003, there were allegations of irregularities in parliamentary elections. Georgians forced out Shevardnadze in what became known as the Rose Revolution
  • A state of emergency was declared in 2007 after riot police battled protesters who were demanding the President's resignation. And rights groups warned of what they described as growing authoritarianism
  • In 2008, tensions between Georgia and Russia escalated into a full-blown war in South Ossetia. At least 30,000 people were displaced by the fighting after Russian forces invaded the disputed territory. The two sides eventually signed a French-brokered peace agreement

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