Mikheil Saakashvili, the pro-Western president of Georgia faced with increasing protests among his people, conceded defeat Tuesday after preliminary election returns showed the opposition had won control of parliament and the right to name a powerful new prime minister. In a televised address, the 44-year-old leader acknowledged that the Georgian Dream coalition led by tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili had won, and said his own United National Movement would become the opposition. “You know well that the views of this coalition were and still remain fundamentally unacceptable for me,” he said, “but democracy works in a way that allows the Georgian people to make a decision by a majority.” With nearly half the ballots counted by Tuesday afternoon, the Central Election Commission reported that Georgian Dream had 54.1% of the vote to 41% for Saakashvili’s movement.
Ivanishvili said Tuesday in televised remarks that after all the votes are counted, his coalition would most likely control at least 100 of the 150 seats in parliament. The tycoon said he would seek the post of prime minister and that the entire Cabinet would be replaced. Saakashvili will remain president until the end of his second and final term next October. But in accordance with the constitution he guided to approval a year ago, his powers will be greatly reduced. Parliament will appoint a Cabinet and prime minister responsible for domestic and foreign policy, leaving the president mainly as the commander in chief of the armed forces and arbiter of disputes between the parliament and the government. Saakashvili’s supporters commanded 119 seats in the outgoing parliament, and his critics had accused the president of orchestrating the constitutional reforms with the expectation that he would be in line to become prime minister.