Until recently, the fruits of Georgia’s 25 year brush with independence were a distinctly mixed bag. In the years after 1991, statehood brought civil war and stagnation. Georgia seemed to be following a post-Soviet script familiar elsewhere: intractable ethnic conflict, a creaking economy, and the same old faces creeping back into power.

Then everything changed. 2003’s Rose Revolution peacefully swept away the last Soviet remnants. When its architects, in turn, lapsed into authoritarian habits, Georgia made history, becoming in 2012 only the first country in the neighbourhood to see a peaceful change of government at the ballot box. Last month a fresh democratic milestone was passed, when the country celebrated a (mostly) peaceful round of elections, hailed by international observers.

This time, Georgian electors bucked international trends and rewarded incumbency. The governing Georgian Dream (GD) party received slightly more than half the popular vote and a huge parliamentary majority, with the opposition United National Movement (UNM) greatly reduced in strength, and minor parties all but removed from the chamber.

With a fresh mandate under his belt, the task of forming a new government will fall to Giorgi Kvirikashvili, prime minister since December. When the electoral dust settles, Kvirikashvili will turn his attention to the outstanding issues confronting the country. His success in so doing will be crucial to ensuring Georgia’s democratic and Western future.

As always, the economy looms largest of all. Though four years of Georgian Dream government have not been without their achievements, most notably the implementation of a genuinely universal healthcare system, the economy remains stagnant. Unemployment is reckoned to be 12% nationwide. Campaign season saw candid admissions by party leaders that the fruits of economic reform had not yet trickled down to the proverbial man on the street. That sort of frankness leaves the government counting on its ability to bring home the economic bacon in future.

It may just find itself equipped to do so. Georgia’s location, slotted conveniently between Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East, lends itself to Kvirikashvili’s much-talked-of vision of his country as an East-West economic hub connecting neighbouring continents and regions. Georgia’s 2014 Association Treaty with the European Union represents a major coup in that regard, with the country suddenly finding itself an attractive proposition, not only for European investors, but also for their Asian and Middle Eastern counterparts looking to access the continent’s markets. A robust set of legal reforms that in recent years have won Georgia international plaudits for ease of doing business only bolsters investor confidence. Ultimately, however, economic success will hinge more than anything on Georgia’s ability to stay on a straight, narrow and stable political path.

That path will require a new political culture. It will require the internal transformation of Georgia’s political parties, Georgian Dream and UNM alike, into something like modern political parties. To its credit, Georgian Dream, founded in 2012 as a loose coalition of parties held together by little more than the sheer force of personality of its billionaire founder, Bidzina Ivanishvili, has made progress, maturing into a broad church, pro-business, vaguely left-of-centre party.

Its opponent, however, lags behind. Influential elements of the UNM, centred around former president Mikheil ‘Misha’ Saakashvili, now in exile in Ukraine, still prefer to dream dreams of re-enacting the Rose Revolution it once led, rather than to operate within constitutional boundaries. Those revolutionary fantasies briefly became ugly reality in the final weeks of the campaign, when leaked audio appeared to catch Misha and his allies red-handed, planning a coup. That the ‘Gadaffi scenario’ the conspirators imagined has yet to transpire is cold comfort for Georgian democracy.

Putsch plots aside, the elections highlighted the need of all parties to buckle down in support of democracy and stability and abandon revolutionary fantasies. Previously a patchwork of small, liberal parties, had provided a much-needed parliamentary backbone for Georgian democracy. Last month, all were swept out of parliament. Ominously, their replacement as the chamber’s third party was the populist, and pro-Russian, Patriots’ Alliance, a party that flirts freely with an especially ugly brand of xenophobic nationalism.

The Patriots’ entry into parliament should be a wake-up call to both major parties. Now, more than ever, it falls to them to defend both the letter and spirit of Georgian democracy. Their task could hardly be more important. Georgia’s success has been predicated on a stable and maturing democracy. Should it collapse, Georgia would be poorer for it, but so too would its Caucasian neighbours and its Western allies. Georgia’s leaders have served her well these last four years. With a little luck, they might just continue to do so.

Felix Light is an academic researcher based in Tbilisi, Georgia. He tweets @Felix_Light.