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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TBILISI, GEORGIA (BosNewsLife)-- Georgia's parliament has approved a billionaire as the former Soviet nation's new prime minister and endorsed his government, following the recent October 1 parliamentary elections. Bidzina Ivanishvili began his first official full working day Friday, October 26, after lawmakers voted 88-54 for his cabinet.
Yet, Ivanishvili will have to work with his political rival President Mikhail Saakashvili for the first year of the new government of this heavily Orthodox Christian country.
When Saakashvili's second and final term ends in October 2013, a constitutional reform will transfer many of the president's powers to the prime minister.
In an earlier interview, the 55-year-old businessman-turned politician made clear however that he would not act as an autocratic leader.
"I have no intention to stop the process that I started," Ivanishvili said. He said he would use his Georgian Dream coalition's majority in parliament to in his words "create such a democracy in Georgia that may well amaze Europe."
Ivanishvili made clear this week that he wants to leave politics in a year and a half. However, "I am going to remain one of the most active members of the civil sector and together with the civil society, I will control the government,” he told legislators.
"Our society must learn how to control their elected government."
Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia, said he wants to use his tenure as prime minister to improve relations with Moscow, which have been strained since the two former Soviet countries fought a brief war in August 2008.
He also vowed to continue Saakashvili's course to integrate more closely with the West. Ivanishivili told reporters that Georgia still aspires to join the European Union and the NATO military alliance.
While he wants to have closer ties with Russia, Ivanishvili made clear that "the United States remains Georgia's main ally."
Ivanishvili has several pro-Western ambassadors among his ministers in an attempt to ease concerns he will drift away from Georgia's pro-Western course.
Even former AC Milan star Kakha Kaladze has a job again: he was named regional development minister and as the second deputy prime minister.
While the government is a mix of liberals and radical nationalists, analysts say they are united by their dislike of President Saakashvili, whose United National Movement party lost the October elections.
Saakashvili's setback has been linked to scandals including recently leaked videos showing prison guards beating and raping inmates.
Though a minister responsible for prisons resigned, the revelations have hurt the campaign of Georgian President.
The scandals came on top of public criticism about Saakashvili's handling of poverty and an unemployment rate of over 16 percent.
President Saakashvili has defended his record saying he tackled "deep rooted corruption" and moved the country forward.
It marks the first time in Georgia's post-Soviet history that a government changed not through a revolution but via the ballot box.
Georgia's Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II, who had been neutral during the campaign, had urged fair elections.
"These elections are very important, and we expect there will be no violations and the elections will not be falsified," he said at the time. "Those who the people want elected should be elected.
"International observers later backed the outcome of the ballot, though they recognized there were some irregularities, including isolated reports of violence around polling stations.
Tonino Picula of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe urged the rival political forces to work together for the democratic future of this Caucasus nation of 4.5 million people.
The elections, he said, "marked an important step in consolidating the conduct of democratic elections, although certain key issues need to be addressed."
(BosNewsLife's NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments especially in, but not limited to, (former) Communist nations and other autocratic states impacting the Church and/or other compassionate professionals).