Paul Goble explains the reasons for Saakashvili’s defeat on Monday and Georgian Dream’s success:
The reasons for the defeat of Saakashvili’s party are not far to seek. As summarized by Maksim Yusin of Moscow’s Kommersant, they include: first, the Georgian economy, despite Saakashvili’s reforms, is doing less well than advertised and has created a large class of losers as well as a smaller one of winners. The former had little reason to vote for his party.
Second, the Georgians are tired of Saakashvili personally. In their minds, he’s been in power too long, and he insisted on personalizing this race. His transparent attempt to remain in power by following Putin’s model of exchanging the presidency and prime minister-ship offended many, and the scandal about torture in prisons at the end of the campaign further underscored the dark underside of Georgian politics.
Third—and this is far and away the most important—Yusin notes that for the first time “Saakashvili lost the monopoly on patriotism.” [bold mine-DL]
As Goble explains, Saakashvili’s habit of accusing his opponents of being Russian agents and traitors ceased to work after a while. As I noted in some posts last year, Saakashvili relied heavily on this tactic to squelch dissent and deflect criticism from himself and the behavior of his government. This practice of accusing opposition members and dissenters of disloyalty and foreign allegiances is hardly unique to Georgia, but it was unfortunately a prominent feature of Saakashvili’s tenure. Having cried wolf too many times, his attempt to paint Ivanishvili as a pro-Russian “stooge” failed and indeed backfired. Instead of damaging Ivanishvili’s credibility, it further undermined his own. Some of his more credulous admirers in the West continue to parrot these lines without appreciating how ridiculous it makes them look.
Goble addresses the implications of the change in government for Georgia’s relations with the West and Russia:
What the change in government will definitely not mean is a wholesale shift in Georgia’s relations with Russia. As Yusin points out, “Russian politicians must not have any illusions: no Georgian leader, unless he is a political kamikaze, will recognize the separation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” “break ties with the West,” or “return to Moscow’s orbit.” [bold mine-DL] And that in turn may mean that Tbilisi may become a bigger problem for Moscow than it has been in the past: it will no longer serve as Putin’s bugaboo, but rather be a model of how citizens can change their government by democratic means.
One of the reasons that some Americans are unwilling or unable to appreciate this is that they came to embrace Saakashvili’s own assumption that anyone who was against him must be acting in the interests of the Kremlin. That ignored the legitimate grievances of the Georgian opposition, and reinforced all of Saakashvili’s worst instincts. As sometimes happens, American hawks confused the goals of the country’s nationalist leadership with the genuine interests of the country. What the election result re-confirmed was that Georgian national interests are not identical with the political interests of Saakashvili or his party, and the former may be even better served once he and his party are no longer in power.