Georgia’s Oct. 1 Parliament elections were remarkable for two reasons: one, because the opposition Georgian Dream coalition won an overwhelming victory, notwithstanding an extremely unfair pre-election environment, and two, because President Mikhail Saakashvili admitted his defeat. This presents a unique, albeit fragile, opportunity to build a consolidated democracy.
Many hailed Mr. Saakashvili as a democrat when he rose to power during the Rose Revolution in 2003, but by late 2007 he had established an essentially authoritarian regime in which many Georgians lived in a state of fear. Yet because President George Bush had declared Georgia a “Beacon of Liberty” and because Saakashvili was seen as an opponent of Russian influence, many in the United States, especially conservatives, supported him, ignoring his domestic shortcomings. This deference marginalized the extremely weak political opposition.