TBILISI, Georgia -- The results are in. The party of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has lost the parliamentary election. And, in what is perhaps the biggest surprise of all, Saakashvili has conceded without a fuss. His United National Movement lost parliamentary elections Monday to the opposition Georgian Dream coalition 55 percent to 40 percent, with 61 percent of voters turning out to vote.
"I am deeply confident that ultimately, regardless of what threats these achievements may face within the nearest months or years, their eradication is impossible," Saakashvili said in a concession speech early Tuesday afternoon before the total vote count had even been completed. Saakashvili has said all along that he looks to the West as a model for Georgia, and that the ultimate goal of his rule was to establish Georgia as a democracy in a neighborhood sorely lacking one. By losing -- and losing gracefully -- Saakashvili effectively won in this broader mission. He is currently presiding over the first peaceful transition of power in the region, which is no small feat.
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Judging by the rhetoric of the opposition, its supporters, and many Saakashvili critics in the West, however, this was not the way things were supposed to happen. Opposition supporters had been primed by their leader, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, to believe that, were they to lose the election, it would be stolen; if they were to win, the government would refuse to recognize the result and use violence to put down protests.
Gathering last night in Freedom Square in the center of Tbilisi, opposition sympathizers sounded correspondingly primed for confrontation. "We will not give up!" Georgian Dream supporters chanted. "I know him from his childhood," Tea Birtskhalavi, an economist, told me of Saakashvili. "He was always insane. He's paranoid." "I think the result for Georgian Dream is small. It should be higher," Giga Svandidze, 28, said. "We want more," Georg Mkhevidze, 56, interrupted.
But, as it turned out, Georgian Dream did not need more. Preliminary results showed that Ivanishvili's coalition had won 77 out of the 150 seats in parliament, assuring it a majority. The hysteria underlying concerns that Saakashvili would steal the election and violently crack down on his supporters was belied almost immediately on Monday night by the scene in Freedom Square, where not a single police officer was present, a fulfillment of the government's plan "to hide the police" regardless of Monday night's outcome. The day after the election was like any other normal day in Georgia, aside from cars full of joyous Georgian Dream backers joyriding through the streets. There were no reports of clashes between supporters of the opposition and government.