It's a great day for democracy in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, but a not-so-great day for flamboyantly pro-American president Mikheil Saakashvili, who conceded defeat for his ruling party on Tuesday. In parliamentary elections, Saakashvili's United National Movement lost to the Georgian Dream coalition led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili (Georgians really do have the best names). “It is obvious that the coalition Georgian Dream has gained an advantage in these elections,” Saakashvili said in a statement. “It means that the parliamentary majority should form a new government and I, as the president, will contribute — in frames of the Constitution — to the process of launching Parliament’s work so that it is able to elect its chairman and also to form a new government.”
For tiny, NATO-aspiring Georgia, Saakashvili's concession marks quite the achievement: If all goes as planned, this election will be the first peaceful transfer of power between rivaling parties in the country's history. (Georgia's got something of a history with civil wars and revolutions.) That said, the U.S. loses a steadfast, Columbia-educated ally, whose strong ties with U.S. leaders birthed a number of charming tokens of mutual respect. Like that time John McCain went out on a limb saying "We are all Georgians" during the country's 2008 war with Russia. Or the time Saakashvili christened a major Georgian highway after George W. Bush. For what it's worth, Georgia's leader-apparent appears highly capable of producing some quirky moments himself. The man is an eccentric, zebra-collecting billionaire who made his wealth in Russian banking and mineral selling, and professes to be a psychoanalyst.