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Mikhail Saakashvili

Mikhail Saakashvili (born December 21, 1967), Georgian jurist and politician, is the winner of the January 4 2004 presidential election in the Republic of Georgia, having polled 96.02% of the votes. He will formally take office on January 25.

Saakashvili's given name is also used in the Georgian form Mikheil (he is commonly known as "Misha").

Early Career

Saakashvili graduated from the Faculty of International Law of the Kiev State University (Ukraine) in 1992. He received a law degree from Columbia University in 1994 and a SJD (Doctorate of Juridical Science) from the law school at George Washington University the following year. In 1995, he also received a diploma from the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. He is married to Sandra Roelofs, of Dutch origin. He is reported to be fluent in seven languages, including English, French and Russian.

While working in the New York law firm of Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler in early 1995, Saakashvili was approached by Zurab Zhvania, an old friend from Georgia who was working on behalf of President Eduard Shevardnadze to recruit talented young Georgians to enter politics. He stood in the December 1995 elections along with Zhvania, and both men won seats in parliament, standing for the Union of Citizens of Georgia, Shevardnadze's party.

Saakashvili soon made a name for himself as chairman of the parliamentary committee charged with creating a new electoral system, an independent judiciary and a non-political police force. He achieved a high degree of public recognition, with opinion surveys finding him to be the second most popular person in Georgia, behind Shevardnadze. He was named "man of the year" by a panel of journalists and human rights advocates in 1997. In January 2000, Saakashvili was appointed Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

On October 12, 2000, Saakashvili became Minister for Justice for the government of President Shevardnadze. He initiated major reforms in the decrepit, corrupt and highly politicised Georgian criminal justice and prisons system. This earned praise from many international observers and human rights activists. But in mid-2001 he became involved in a major controversy with the Economics Minister Vano Chkhartishvili, State Security Minister Vakhtang Kutateladze and Tbilisi police chief Soso Alavidze, accusing them of profiting from corrupt business deals.

Saakashvili resigned on September 5, 2001, saying that "I consider it immoral for me to remain as a member of Shevardnadze's government." He declared that corruption had penetrated to the very centre of the Georgian government and that Shevardnadze lacked the will to deal with it, warning that "current developments in Georgia will turn the country into a criminal enclave in one or two years."


Having resigned from the government and quit the Shevardnadze-run Union of Citizens of Georgia party, Saakashvili founded the United National Movement (UNM) in October, 2001 to provide a focus for Georgian reformists. He joined forces with the United Democrats (now headed by his old friend Zurab Zhvania and Nino Burjanadze), to form a "broad democratic alliance". In June 2002, he was elected as the Chairman of the Tbilisi Assembly ("Sakrebulo") - in effect, the city's mayor - following an agreement between the United National Movement and the Georgian Labour Party. This gave him a powerful new platform from which to criticize the government.

Georgia held parliamentary elections on November 2, 2003 which were denounced by local and international observers as being grossly rigged. Saakashvilli claimed that he had won the elections (a claim supported by independent exit polls), and urged Georgians to demonstrate against Shevardnadze's government and engage in nonviolent civil disobedience against the authorities. Saakashvili's UNM and other opposition groups united to demanded the ouster of Shevardnadze and the rerun of the elections.

Massive political demonstrations (the so-called "Rose Revolution") were held in Tblisi between November 20 and November 23, with over 100,000 people participating and listening to speeches by Saakashvili and other opposition figures. After an increasingly tense two weeks of demonstrations, Shevardnadze bowed to the inevitable and resigned as President on November 23, to be replaced on an interim basis by parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze.

On January 4, 2004 Saakashvili won the presidential election in Georgia with more than 96% of the votes. He ran on a platform of opposing corruption and improving pay and pensions. He has promised to improve relations with the outside world; although he is strongly pro-Western and intends to seek Georgian membership of NATO and the European Union, he has also spoken of the importance of better relations with Russia. He faces major problems, however, particularly Georgia's difficult economic situation and the still unresolved question of separatism in the regions of Ajaria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Abkhazia regards itself as independent of Georgia and did not take part in the elections, while Ajaria's leadership has expressed concern about Saakashvili's desire to revive the authority of the Georgian government in the regions.

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