Georgia: A Sour-Faced Promise to Cohabitate and Compete
With their suits matching their grey faces and the grey weather, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Prime-Minister-to-Be Bidzina Ivanishvili finally met today after an epic election confrontation that wrote a new chapter in Georgia’s history.
There was no raising of eyebrows, no narrowing of the eyes and no "So-we-meet-again" kind of exchange between the two at the hilltop presidential palace. Rather, it was an icy greeting followed by a silent line dance of handshakes between their single-filed attendants (all male in dark suits). Then, both sides walked into the glass-domed presidential palace to make some more history.
But don't expect Georgia's first, uncertain steps toward bipartisanship to lead to a warm sense of togetherness. The post-meeting press statements -- with Saakashvili granting the kick-off to Ivanishvili -- indicate that the coming political era will be defined by the Ivanishvili-led parliamentary majority trying to consolidate power and by the Saakashvili-led minority trying to score a comeback.
“We will treat our opponents not the way they deserve, but the way our country deserves,” said Ivanishvili, standing next to the man who has stripped him of his Georgian citizenship, called him a Kremlin lackey and, according to critics, whacked him with multi-million-lari fines (via state auditors) for alleged campaign-finance violations.
“For the first time in… this part of the post-Soviet space, most [but not all] powers of the executive branch are being handed over in a peaceful, democratic way,” responded the president, who vowed to keep democracy going despite “fundamental differences” between his party, the United National Movement, and Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition.
Yet the handshake between the big and boisterous Saakashvili and the petit and circumspect Ivanishvili made for an awkward tableau that only underscored those differences. Normally self-confident, sometimes arrogant, the pair looked more like adolescents trying to figure out the cool way to act in a new environment.
But perhaps that's normal behavior in an essentially teenage democracy.