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CrisisWatch Georgia

Unchanged Situation

Breakaway republic South Ossetia (SO) 9 April elected new de facto President Anatoliy Bibilov, who campaigned for closer links with Russia, with 54.8% of vote; incumbent Leonid Tibilov, supported by Moscow, gained only 33.7%. In parallel vote 80% agreed to add “State of Alania” to previous official name “Republic of South Ossetia”. Local observers and activists said elections were first providing free choice to people since Russia’s recognition of SO in 2008, including with opposition rallies and televised debates. Tbilisi, U.S. and EU said vote illegitimate; Kremlin envoy attended Bibilov’s inauguration 21 April. Bibilov 12 April said he would promote local citizens to main govt offices, currently occupied by Russians. Russian FM Lavrov 18-19 April visited breakaway republic Abkhazia to open new “embassy” and meet with de facto president. Lavrov said his country favoured opening of trade routes with Georgia through Abkhazia; Abkhaz de facto leadership reiterated readiness to promote transit, providing Georgia recognises Abkhaz authority in issue. Tbilisi called Lavrov’s visit violation of Georgian sovereignty, expressed deep disappointment in light of two countries’ regular talks, moves to reestablish cooperation. Parliament constitution commission 22 April finalised its work on constitution project. Proposed amendments, which provoked protest from opposition, President Margvelashvili and civil society, include president being elected by delegates rather than by direct vote, and shift to proportional electoral system.

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Georgia is in the midst of transitioning from a presidential to a mixed parliamantary system, in which much power will lie with the office of the Prime Minister. Elections later this year will determine whether current President Mikheil Saakashvili's party, United National Movement, will retain control of government. Medea Turashvili, Caucasus analyst for the International Crisis Group, discusses what implications this might have on Georgia's domestic and foreign policy.