A powerful coalition of reformists headed by Mikhail Saakashvili, Nino Burjanadze and Zurab Zhvania united to oppose Shevardnadze's government in the November 2, 2003 parliamentary elections. The elections were widely regarded as being blatantly rigged; in response, the opposition organised massive demonstrations in the streets of Tbilisi. After two tense weeks, Shevardnadze resigned on November 23, 2003 and was replaced as president on an interim basis by Burjanadze.
|Rose Revolution: Demonstration at the Mayor's Office, Freedom Square, Tbilisi|
On January 4, 2004 Mikhail Saakashvili won the Presidential Elections with a huge majority of 96% of the votes cast. Constitutional amendments were rushed through Parliament in February strengthening the powers of the President to dismiss Parliament and creating the post of Prime Minister. Zurab Zhvania was appointed Prime Minister. Nino Burjanadze, the interim President, became Speaker of Parliament.
The new president faces many problems on coming to office. More than 230,000 internally displaced persons put an enormous strain on the economy. Peace in the separatist areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, overseen by Russian and United Nations peacekeepers and international organizations, remains fragile and will require years of economic development and negotiation to overcome local enmities. Considerable progress has been made in negotiations on the Ossetian-Georgian conflict, and negotiations are continuing in the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict.
After the Rose Revolution relations between the Georgian government and semi-separatist Ajarian leader Aslan Abashidze deteriorated rapidly thereafter, with Abashidze rejecting Saakashvili's demands for the writ of the Tbilisi government to run in Ajaria. Both sides mobilised forces in apparent preparations for a military confrontation. Saakashvili's ultimatums and massive street demonstrations forced Abashidze to resign and flee Georgia.
Relations with Russia remain problematic due to Russia's continuing political, economic and military support to separatist governments in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian troops still remain garrisoned at two military bases and as peacekeepers in these regions. The separatist question is still unresolved but Saakashvili's public pledge to resolve the matter has already provoked criticism from the separatist regions and Russia.
Georgia remains a very poor country by European standards, not least because of its widespread corruption. The Georgian Government is committed to economic reform in cooperation with the IMF and World Bank, and stakes much of its future on the revival of the ancient Silk Road as the Eurasian corridor, using Georgia's geography as a bridge for transit of goods between Europe and Asia. Saakashvili has pledged to improve the economy in general and specifically to raise pay and pensions, as well as to crack down on corruption and retrieve the ill-gotten gains of figures in the previous government. In August 2004, several clashes occurred in South Ossetia.
Integration into the NATO and the EU remains the main goal of Georgia's foreign policy. On October 29, 2004, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) of the NATO approved the Individual Partnership Action Plan of Georgia (IPAP). Georgia is the first among the NATO’s partner countries to manage this task successfully.
Georgia continues to support the coalition forces in Iraq. On November 8, 2004, 300 extra Georgian troops were sent to Iraq. The Georgian government committed to send a total of 850 troops to Iraq to serve in the protection forces of the U.N. Mission. Along with increasing Georgian troops in Iraq, the US will train additional 4 thousand Georgian soldiers within frames of the Georgia Train-and-Equip Program (GTEP).
In February, 2005 Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania died, and Zurab Nogaideli was appointed as the new Prime Minister.
On 9-10 May 2005 Georgia was visited by the US President George W. Bush, who met Mikheil Saakashvili and a group of Georgian parliamentarians, and addressed tens of thousands of the Georgian people at Tbilisi Freedom Square .
Saakashvili is still (2006) under significant pressure to deliver on his promised reforms. Organisations such as Amnesty International have serious concerns over human rights , and discontent over unemployment, pensions and corruption, and the continuing dispute over Abkhazia, have greatly diminished Saakashvili's popularity in the country.
Georgia's relationships with Russia are at it lowest point in modern history due to Georgian-Russian espionage controversy and related events.