Georgia presidential vote goes to second round runoff: Election Commission

TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgia’s presidential election will go to a second round runoff between two of the country’s former foreign ministers after no single candidate won outright in the first round of voting, the country’s Central Election Commission (CEC) said on Monday.

Election Commission officials count votes after presidential election at a polling station in Kutaisi, Georgia, October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Tornike Turabelidze

After all the votes from Sunday’s first round of voting had been counted French-born former diplomat and foreign minister Salome Zurabishvili had secured 38.7 percent of the vote, while Grigol Vashadze, also a former foreign minister, had won 37.7 percent of the vote, the CEC said.

With neither managing to get more than 50 percent of the vote necessary to win outright, a runoff between Zurabishvili and Vashadze will now be held sometime between now and Dec. 2.

Constitutional changes have weakened the power of the presidency, handing most authority to the office of prime minister.

But the post is still seen as important for the image abroad of a country which is strongly oriented toward the West and fearful of Russia, which fought a short war against Georgia a decade ago after which it recognized the independence of two breakaway Georgian regions.

The country of 3.7 million people is Washington’s strategic ally in the Caucasus region. It also hopes to eventually join the EU and NATO. Pipelines carrying Caspian oil and gas to Europe run across its territory.

FORMER FOREIGN MINISTERS

Tamar Zhvania, the head of the CEC, said that there were some irregularities, but that no serious violations had taken place during the election.

Zurabishvili was backed by the ruling Georgian Dream Party, while Vashadze was running on behalf of a new platform of 11 opposition parties led by former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM).

Opposition parties complained about alleged pressure on voters from government officials, reported attempts to bribe voters, and irregularities during vote counting.

Zurabishvili, 66, a former French career diplomat, was born to Georgian emigre parents in France and served as French ambassador to Georgia before becoming Georgia’s foreign minister in 2004.

Supporters say she would bring international stature to the presidency, while opponents criticize her for statements that appeared to blame Georgia for war with Russia in 2008 and remarks about minorities that some saw as xenophobic.

Her rival Vashadze, 60, a diplomat and businessman, served as Georgia’s foreign minister from 2008-2012.

Losing candidate David Bakradze, a former parliamentary speaker, said he would support Vashadze in the runoff.

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