Georgia’s Saakashvili: Washington’s Man to the End
October 20-November 2, 2012
Georgians vote for change
President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, who thought he was politically indestructible, finally met his nemesis in the form of a reclusive billionaire, Bidzina Ivanishvili. In the parliamentary elections held on October 1, the coalition led by Ivanishvili, “The Georgian Dream”, won 55 per cent of the vote. Saakashvili, despite predictions to the contrary, was quick to accept the result. He has one more year in office as President. Ivanishvili, who will assume the Prime Minster’s post, demanded in his first press conference after the election results the President’s immediate resignation. However, after strong protests from Western capitals, he accepted political cohabitation with his bete noire. Under a new constitution, the Prime Minister will exercise executive authority and the President will be a rubber stamp.
Saakashvili became President in 2003 after staging a “rose revolution” with the support of the West to undemocratically oust the government led by Eduard Shevernadze. The Western-educated Saakashvili promptly became the West’s point man in the region, breaking the country’s traditional links with Russia. Georgia applied to be a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and even sent troops to fight alongside the United States/NATO forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. President George W. Bush was given a hero’s welcome when he visited Georgia in 2005. The U.S. had assured Saakashvili that Georgia would eventually be made a full member of NATO, but other member countries did not want to anger Russia and managed to put the issue of Georgia’s membership on hold.
Saakashvili’s political unravelling started after his disastrous attempt to reincorporate South Ossetia. The brief conflict in 2008 led to the death of more than 2,000 people and a crushing military defeat for the Georgian army. Russian troops, which were stationed in South Ossetia, were at the doors of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. The war made Saakashvili unpopular, but he tried to brazen it out by resorting to more authoritarian methods. All the while, the West stood by him. On a recent visit to Georgia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused Ivanishvili’s request for a one-on-one meeting. The U.S. had put all its bets on Saakashvili winning the elections.
The turning point in the election campaign, according to observers, was the secret footage that emerged showing the rampant abuse of prisoners in Georgian jails. The tapes, showing jailers torturing and raping prisoners, became the final proof for Georgians that the rule of law was being wantonly trampled upon in their country since Saakashvili came to power.
Ivanishvili made his fortune in Russia in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since his entry into politics a year ago, he has been calling for improved relations with Moscow. Saakashvili had tried to paint him as an “agent” of Moscow. The economic sanctions that Russia had imposed after the 2008 military confrontation had an adverse impact on Georgia’s economy. Ivanishvili has said that the U.S. will continue to be his country’s “first friend”. At the same time, he emphasised that it was important to “have good relations with everybody”.