The leader of the coalition that won Georgia’s parliamentary elections has called on Mikheil Saakashvili to resign ahead of schedule despite widespread praise for the 44-year-old president's handling of an election defeat that sets in motion that country's first-ever democratic handover of power.
Billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the Georgian Dream movement, said Saakashvili had made many mistakes and should resign one year ahead of schedule and order an early presidential election.
"I think Saakashvili will be able to resign on his own," Ivanishvili said. "The way I see it is that after his statement today, his next step -- and the only right step -- would be to resign of his own accord and call a presidential election."
Ivanishvili also told his October 2 press conference in Tbilisi that a new government led by his coalition would continue Saakashvili’s policy toward European integration and eventual NATO membership.
Ivanishvili's remarks came after Saakashvili conceded that his United National Movement -- which has ruled the South Caucasus country since 2004 -- had been defeated in the October 1 parliamentary elections.
Saakashvili vowed that "as president, according to the constitution," he would assist the political transition and the launch of a new parliament and formation of a government.
Final preliminary results were expected to be announced on October 3.
A Georgian First?
A peaceful transfer of power would mark the first time since the 1991 Soviet collapse that the Georgian government had changed through an election rather than through revolution.
Georgia's Central Election Commission said with about 90 percent of votes counted on October 2 that Georgian Dream had won 54.8 percent of the vote. It said the United National Movement was trailing with some 40 percent.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev said the Georgian Dream opposition coalition's success showed the desire of the Georgian people for change.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney congratulated Georgia on the parliamentary elections calling the poll "another milestone in Georgia's democratic development."
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, "We'd like to commend President Saakashvili and UNM for graciously conceding when they lost at the ballot box."
Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Catherine Ashton, applauded the election and called on those elected to serve the people who voted them into office.
"Catherine Ashton, the high representative, and [EU Enlargement] Commissioner [Stefan] Fuele on behalf of the EU, congratulate the Georgian Dream coalition on its election victory," Kocijancic said. "The Georgian people have now spoken, they look to their politicians to deliver in line with the mandate which they have been given. Both a responsible government and a constructive opposition are essential parts of a functioning democratic society."
The official responsible for postconflict settlement in the Georgian breakaway territory of South Ossetia, Murat Dzhiyoev, said separatist authorities hope for dialogue with "positive forces" in Georgia.
The deputy foreign minister of the Georgian separatist territory of Abkhazia, Irakli Khintba, declined to comment on what he called "the internal political situation in a foreign country."
Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from Georgia at the end of the brief Georgian-Russian conflict in August 2008.
Only Russia and a handful of other countries have recognized the independence of those Georgian territories.
Ivanishvili said on October 2 that he supported the restoration of Georgia's territorial integrity, but he also said he wanted to normalize relations with neighbors, "including Russia."
With additional reporting by Interfax and Rustavi TV