Georgia opposition gets boost as presidential vote goes to run-off

TBILISI: Georgia’s hotly contested presidential election has gone to a run-off after no candidate won the first round, in a move that may spell the end of the ruling party’s reign, results showed on Monday.
The election is pro-Western Georgia’s last direct presidential poll as the former Soviet republic transitions to a parliamentary form of governance.
The new head of state will be a largely ceremonial figure. A run-off will be held no later than December 2, the election commission said.
Observers view the presidential election as a trial run for the contest between billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s ruling Georgian Dream party and the opposition in more important parliamentary polls, which are set for 2020.
Georgian Dream-backed candidate, former French ambassador Salome Zurabishvili, was considered the favourite but failed to win 50 per cent plus one vote to be declared outright winner.
Zurabishvili, 66, narrowly led with 38.64 per cent of the vote against 37.73 per cent for opposition leader Grigol Vashadze, the election commission said. Vashadze, 60, is supported by former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement and 10 other groups. Official turnout was nearly 47 per cent.
Some analysts described Sunday’s vote as a battle between Ivanishvili and Saakashvili, who has said he wants to return to Georgia from self-imposed exile in the Netherlands.
“The two commanders-in-chief of Georgia’s competing political camps — Ivanishvili and Saakashvili — have fought a duel in these elections and Saakashvili came out a winner,” political analyst Gela Vasadze said.
Opposition parties in the country of around four million people were expected to support Vashadze in the run-off, forming a united front against the ruling party.
Ex-parliament speaker David Bakradze of the European Georgia party, who came third with nearly 11 per cent of the vote, endorsed Vashadze. — AFP