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TBILISI: Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili yesterday promised a peaceful transfer of power to his victorious rival Bidzina Ivanishvili at their first talks since the ruling party’s shock poll defeat.
The two rivals shook hands for the cameras in a show of unity after a bitterly personal and divisive election campaign but their grim faces and lack of smiles betrayed the tensions simmering beneath.
“We, as responsible authorities, and I as the president who is the guarantor of the constitution, will ensure that the transfer of government functions happens without any excesses,” Saakashvili said after the 40-minute meeting at the presidential palace in Tbilisi. Both men described the handover as “historic”.
“For the first time in this region, in this part of the post-Soviet space, most functions of executive power are being peacefully and democratically transferred,” Saakashvili said.
The surprise victory of Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition over Saakashvili’s once dominant party in last week’s hard-fought parliamentary polls had raised fears of political turmoil.
But Ivanishvili, standing next to Saakashvili as the rivals made brief televised statements in the courtyard of the presidential palace, said his coalition would “treat our opponents with honour”.
“Me and my team have managed to create a precedent for the democratic transfer of power in Georgia and this will have its deserved place in Georgia’s history,” he said.
Yet both took the opportunity to criticise the other for what Saakashvili described as their “fundamental differences”.
Ivanishvili promised however to maintain Saakashvili’s staunchly pro-Western foreign policy and ambitions to join Nato which have infuriated arch foe Russia.
“We will be aspiring towards Europe, we will be steadfast and Georgia will surely manage to become a NATO member very soon,” he said.