Georgia’s billionaire prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, wrapped up a clean sweep of the Black Sea nation’s top jobs as his candidate won an election to replace outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili.
With almost 99.7 percent of votes counted at the country’s 3,741 polling stations, Georgian Dream candidate Giorgi Margvelashvili had 62.1 percent versus 21.7 percent for UNM candidate Davit Bakradze, followed by Nino Burjanadze at 10.2 percent, the Electoral Commission said today.
Capturing the presidency completes a transition from the 2003 Rose Revolution that strengthened Georgia’s ties with the U.S. and Europe at the expense of Russia. With his goal of reshaping politics complete after an upset win in parliamentary elections a year ago, Ivanishvili said he’ll hand his job to an ally after the new president is sworn in next month.
“These elections prove that we’re a real democracy with European values,” Ivanishvili said yesterday in the capital, Tbilisi, after casting his vote. “Democratic institutions must develop more but our main challenge in the future will be the economy and we promise to improve that.”
Bakradze congratulated Margvelashvili on his victory, pending official results. Voter turnout was at 46.6 percent when polls closed, according to the Electoral Commission.
While Margvelashvili’s campaign featured pledges to support entrepreneurs and pursue friendly relations with Europe, the U.S. and Russia, his remit would be smaller than Saakashvili’s as Georgia becomes a parliamentary democracy.
Ivanishvili, who said Oct. 23 that he’d step down a week after the new president’s Nov. 17 inauguration, vowed to raise living standards, boost ties with Russia and improve the justice system as he assembled his Georgian Dream coalition. He may name his choice to take over on Nov. 1 or 2, he said today.
Joao Soares, special co-ordinator of an observer mission for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, called the ballot “positive and transparent,” saying it indicates that the nation’s democracy is maturing.
“The EU congratulates President-elect Margvelashvili,” European Union foreign affairs spokesman Michael Mann said today. “We also congratulate Georgia on what appears to have been a well-managed election.”
The vote was free and fair, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said he hopes ties between the two countries will continue to improve five years after they fought a war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
“We’ve had some success in normalizing relations with Russia,” Margvelashvili said today. “I don’t think the feeling when neither side trusted the other is there any longer.”
Amid uncertainty over Georgia’s direction, the economy has soured, with growth in gross domestic product slowing to 1.5 percent from a year earlier in the second quarter, down from as high as 8.2 percent in the same three months of 2012. Foreign direct investment, which fueled 5.1 percent average expansion in 2007-2012, fell for the first year in three in 2012 as Ivanishvili clashed with Saakashvili.
“Ivanishvili may well remain a key political decision-maker in Georgia,” Lilit Gevorgyan, senior analyst at IHS Global Insight in London, said yesterday in an e-mailed note. “His strong influence after the appointment of a new prime minister could have a calming impact in the coming months but in the long-term it will not serve the interests of Georgian democracy.”