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In Post-Vote Georgia, Lots to Do (and Drink)

The election posters are already starting to look tattered and grubby, and the gaudy campaign slogans are fading fast. A week has passed since local elections in Georgia delivered their entirely predictable results: a big win for President Mikheil Saakashvili’s ruling party.

That might have surprised those who imagined that Georgians would want to give their leader a bloody nose after the defeat in the war with Russia and the economic slump that followed. But the results mean that Saakashvili is now more secure in office than he had been for years,

In Tbilisi, his party campaigned under the slogan: “There’s a lot more to be done.” A Georgian brewery quickly parodied the phrase in advertisements that promised: “There’s a lot more to be drunk.”

But the majority of voters appear to have decided that they trust Saakashvili and his allies to get things done more than some of the opposition politicians who have been making trips to Moscow recently and cozying up to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The ruling party describes such figures as traitors consorting with the enemy while Abkhazia and South Ossetia are occupied by Russian forces and puppet regimes. The polls suggested that many Georgians agree.

For the radical opposition, the elections represented the latest in a series of political disappointments. The radicals have repeatedly sought to instigate a reverse scenario of the Rose Revolution that swept Saakashvili to power. In recent years they’ve held large protests in the streets, set up tent camps, organized hunger strikes and blockaded the parliament, all with as little success as they had at the ballot box.

With the elections over, speculation is likely to increase about who will replace Saakashvili when his two-term presidency ends in 2013. This could be a landmark event in Georgia — the first constitutional transfer of power since independence from the Soviet Union without a revolution or a coup. ? 

There’s also the question of what Saakashvili himself will do afterward. Although his government is no longer unequivocally considered a “beacon of democracy” in Washington or Brussels, some of his admirers at home want him to retain a major role in political life.

“Georgia cannot afford to lose a man with so much talent and energy,” a pro-government political analyst told me recently. Whatever happens, this country certainly wouldn’t be the same without him.

Matthew Collin is a journalist based in Tbilisi.

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