An ally of billionaire Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili yesterday savored a landslide win in presidential polls that ended the decade-long dominance of pro-Western reformer, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Giorgi Margvelashvili, a little-known academic from Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition, won about 62 percent of the votes in the poll on Sunday, the Georgian Central Election Commission said after ballots from more than 97 percent of polling stations were counted.
His nearest challenger, former parliament speaker David Bakradze, from Saakashvili’s United National Movement Party (UNM), trailed behind on just less than 22 percent, results showed.
Margvelashvili had already claimed victory a rally in Tbilisi on Sunday.
“I thank you all so much. It is our shared victory,” Margvelashvili said to chants from the crowd.
Ivanishvili, who is Georgia’s richest man and who wrested power from the UNM in parliamentary polls last year in Georgia’s first smooth transfer of power, said he had been certain of victory.
“All together we will build a Georgia which we dream about,” Ivanishvili said.
Sunday’s vote marked the swan song of US ally Saakashvili’s second and last term and his bitter year-long cohabitation with bete noire Ivanishvili, who has promised to also step down.
In a televised address, Saakashvili urged his supporters to respect the outcome of the poll, while calling it a “serious deviation” from Georgia’s path toward development.
“The Georgian voters have expressed their will. I want to tell those who are not happy with the results: We must respect the majority’s opinion,” Saakashvili said.
Margvelashvili will assume a weaker role than Saakashvili because constitutional changes will see the prime minister take over many key powers from the president and become the dominant force.
Lower stakes this election saw a final turnout of just 46.6 percent, according to official figures.
Ivanishvili has promised to name his replacement and step down shortly after the polls, arguing that he has achieved his goals.
“This is now the most important thing as the president is no longer the central figure and the next prime minister is now much more powerful,” said Koba Turmanidze, Georgia director for the Caucasus Research Resource Center.
Commission chairwoman Tamar Zhvania said in a statement that there were no major violations and that “voters freely expressed their will.” Yet Transparency International said the number of procedural violations was up from last year.