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Is the West losing Georgia?

The Caucasus nation has a split personality with ambitious democratic reforms but a frustrated opposition.

With the $4.5 billion aid package it received in the wake of the Ossetia war running dry, Georgia has now turned its attention to attracting foreigners and their investments. The government has lowered barriers to opening businesses, boosted tourist infrastructure and made a loud case for its economy, which still faces enormous challenges in terms of unemployment and poverty.

A key test will be the country’s upcoming elections — a 2012 parliamentary vote and a presidential vote set for the year after. There have already been rumblings that Saakashvili will seek to stay on, perhaps “pulling a Putin” and moving to the prime minister’s post while installing a loyal ally as president.

Opposition parties, in the face of limited power and the overwhelming state resources directed towards Saakashvili’s National Movement, are looking skeptically upon electoral reform that could open the system up to more competition.

Government officials clearly have no intention of going anywhere, speaking in terms of five- and eight-year plans to finish the reforms they have begun. They attribute their staying power to, simply, their popularity.

“Georgian society is very pro-Western and very pro-reform,” said Utiashvili. “The ruling party represents their interests.”

He admitted that opposition parties “have no chance to challenge the national movement. If you look at the political spectrum in Georgia, you have one giant and many dwarves.”