Georgia presidential election poised for runoff

A woman votes at a polling station during the presidential election in Tbilisi, Georgia October 28, 2018. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgia’s presidential election looked likely to go to a second round as early official results on Sunday showed neither of the frontrunners with enough votes to secure victory.

French-born ruling party candidate Salome Zurabishvili had 43.2 percent of the vote and her opposition rival Grigol Vashadze won 34.7 percent based on results from 28 percent of the polling stations, the Central Election Commission (CEC) said on its website.

“It’s evident now that there will be the second round between Salome Zurabishvili and Grigol Vashadze,” Irakly Kobakhidze, the ruling party executive secretary, told reporters.

The second round of voting will occur no later than Dec. 1.

A poll commissioned by independent television station Rustavi-2 suggested Zurabishvili, a former French career diplomat who served as Georgia’s foreign minister from 2004-2005, was neck in neck with Vashadze, another former foreign minister who is backed by an opposition coalition.

That poll predicted that no candidate would win more than 50 percent of the vote and the two would face a run-off.

Candidate David Bakradze, former parliamentary speaker who trailed the frontrunners, said he would support Vashadze in the second round.

Zurabishvili, 66, was born to Georgian emigre parents in France and served as French ambassador to Georgia before becoming Georgia’s foreign minister.

Supporters say she would bring international stature to the presidency; opponents criticize her for statements that appeared to blame Georgia for war with Russia in 2008, remarks about minorities that some saw as xenophobic and unsteady command of the Georgian language, which she speaks with an accent.

Zurabishvili was invited into Georgian politics by former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who gave her Georgian citizenship to head his foreign ministry but sacked her after a year. She then set up her own opposition party, which she led until 2010 before temporarily quitting politics and returning to France.

She was elected to Georgia’s parliament in 2016 with the backing of Georgian Dream, a party controlled by Bidzina Ivanishvili, the country’s richest man, whose critics say he rules Georgia from behind the scenes.

Constitutional changes have weakened the power of the presidency, putting most authority in the office of prime minister.

But the post is still seen as important for the image abroad of a country strongly oriented toward the West and fearful of Russia, which invaded a decade ago and backs separatists in two breakaway regions.

More Stories