Georgian Dream Wins Parliamentary Election, Exit Poll Showsby
Party gets 39.9% to United National Movement’s 32.7%
Premier Kvirikashvili calls vote important democratic step
Georgian Dream won parliamentary elections, retaining power by edging the party of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, an exit poll showed.
Georgian Dream received 39.9 percent of the vote in the former Soviet republic, compared with 32.7 percent for United National Movement, according to a survey by the polling company GfK. A second poll by TNS gave Georgian Dream almost 54 percent to UNM’s 19.5 percent. Preliminary results of Saturday’s ballot will be released through the night. For single-member districts where no candidate captures a majority, a runoff will be held in two weeks.
Georgian Dream swept to power in 2012 elections, six months after being formed by reclusive billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, ending the UNM rule that had started in the 2003 Rose Revolution. Over the past year, the government struggled to contain a currency crisis, which kept voters focused on the economy as it reeled from the impact of the Ukrainian conflict and Russia’s slide into recession. Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who ascended to the post less than 10 months ago, is promising to rev up growth in the next decade.
“These elections are important because we’re taking a further step toward being a more democratic state,” Kvirikashvili told reporters after casting his vote. “I voted for Georgia’s European future. I believe and I’m confident that Georgia will meet the higher expectations of our friends and partners.”
Amid persistent tensions with Russia after a 2008 war, both Georgian Dream and the UNM advocate membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union for the former Soviet republic of 4.5 million people. An agreement late last year giving Georgians visa-free travel to the EU has repeatedly stalled.
Georgian Dream won 85 of parliament’s 150 seats in a bloc with five other parties in 2012. Ivanishvili was prime minister for a year before handing over to Irakli Garibashvili, then Europe’s youngest premier at age 31. Garibashvili resigned in December as the government sought to shake off unpopularity over the economy.
Georgia’s lari fell to record-low 2.5 to the dollar in February after declining 21 percent in 2015. While it’s recovered some ground since, pre-election tensions are contributing to volatility that’s prompted interventions by the central bank in the past month to try to stabilize the currency.
Kvirikashvili, a former economy minister, bet on his business-friendly reputation to sway voters. He’s forecast economic growth averaging 7 percent to 8 percent a year to 2026, more than double the present rate, as infrastructure improvements particularly in transport and tourism draw in foreign investment.
Georgia reached a free-trade agreement with China last month. Work also began on a new $2.5 billion seaport on the Black Sea coast at Anaklia that Kvirikashvili has said could become “one of the world’s great trading hubs” along the historic “Silk Road” linking Europe and China.