Georgia vote rivals in talks on smooth transfer
TBILISI (Reuters) - The opposition coalition that won Georgia's parliamentary election started talks with members of President Mikheil Saakashvili's party on Friday to ensure a smooth transition of power in the former Soviet republic.
Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire head of Georgian Dream, the coalition that won a majority of parliament seats in the October 1 election after a bitter campaign, said he expected to nominate his cabinet on Monday.
A member of Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM) reiterated the president's promise to cooperate in forming a government, the latest sign that Georgia's first post-Soviet transfer of power between parties through an election will be peaceful.
"It was a constructive and useful meeting," Ivanishvili told business leaders after his four allies in the Georgian Dream coalition held talks with four members of UNM. "I think we will be able to name a new government on Monday."
Ivanishvili, who is Georgia's richest man but only entered politics a year ago when he began to mount a challenge to Saakashvili's rule, did not reveal names of any nominees. He has said no members of the previous government would be retained.
Saakashvili, 44, a pro-Western leader swept to power in the peaceful 2003 Rose Revolution street protests that ejected the Soviet old guard in 2003, conceded his party's defeat on Tuesday based on partial results.
His concession won praise from the United States and other Western countries and organizations eager to see the Caucasus nations, a strategically located conduit for energy exports to Europe, avoid a showdown in the streets over the vote.
The new parliament should convene within 20 days of the election. The president formally presents the nominations for the cabinet, which needs a simple majority in the 150-seat chamber to be approved.
"We are not going to create any problems and the president will submit a cabinet which will be agreed with representatives of Georgian Dream," Pavle Kublashvili, a UNM member who took part in the talks at government headquarters, told Reuters.
Ivanishvili, 56, plans to be prime minister, a post that would make him Georgia's most powerful official when reforms weakening the head of state take effect after a presidential election next year.
He has called for calm since the election, as has Saakashvili whose final term ends next year, setting up an awkward period of political cohabitation with Ivanishvili.
Ivanishvili says he wants to improve ties with Moscow, badly damaged by a brief 2008 war that followed strains over Saakashvili's efforts to bring Georgia, dominated by Russia for nearly two centuries before the 1991 Soviet collapse, into NATO.
But he has said he will pursue integration with NATO and Europe and that his first trip abroad following the election will be to the United States, which has strongly supported Saakashvili during his presidency.
Georgia's electoral system allocates 77 of the 150 parliament seats according to party lists and the other 73 to he winners of races in individual constituencies.
A full ballot count showed Georgian Dream had 54.9 percent and the United National Movement had 40.4 percent of the party list votes, the Central Election Commission said on Friday.
In individual races Georgian Dream won 39 seats against 34 seats for the UNM, according to the commission. It has not announced exactly how many seats each party will have.
(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Steve Gutterman and Michael Roddy)