What was the election campaign like? Who are the candidates and what authority will the future president have?
Georgia is holding its presidential elections today. A total of 3,703 voting stations opened throughout Georgia with 55 voting stations abroad. The stations opened at 8 am this morning and will close at 8 pm. There are 3,518,877 citizens eligible to vote.
Georgia is a parliamentary republic, thus the president has less power than the prime minister. However, the president still plays an important political role. Moreover, the presidential elections are important because in just two years time, the country will return to the polls for parliamentary elections. The results of the presidential election will therefore be a good indicator of what political forces have a good chance at gaining seats in parliament.
Political observers say that if government-backed independent candidate Salome Zourabichvili does not win, or if the vote comes to a second round, this will be a strong sign to the government that the population is dissatisfied with the policies of the ruling Georgian Dream party.
JAMnews has put together the most important facts you need to know about the presidential elections in Georgia.
• Georgia is voting for its fifth president today.
• This is the seventh presidential election held in the history of independent Georgia.
• The new constitution stipulates that the president will be elected for a term of six years instead of five as per previous years.
• The new constitution also states that this is the last time the president will be elected directly by the people – the next president will be chosen by an electoral college of 300 people.
• There has never been a second round of voting in the history of independent Georgia.
• The new president will have less authority than his or her predecessors.
• There are 22,904 observers participating in the monitoring process, representing 73 local and 58 international organizations. There are 1,163 international observers.
What power will the future president have?
The next president will:
√ Have the power to pardon convicts;
√ Have the right to grant Georgian citizenship;
√ Present and pursue Georgia’s foreign policy. However, all steps will first be coordinated with the government;
√ Place his/her formal signature on documents appointing the prime minister and high-level justice officials;
√ Schedule elections for local self-governance, parliamentary and early elections within the time-frames determined by the law;
√ Grant and award prizes and state medals;
√ Enjoy immunity during his or her term in office;
√ Be able to raise the issue of impeachment with the agreement of one-third of the parliament.
The three main candidates
• There are 25 candidates running in the presidential elections, of which 19 were put forward by political parties and six by initiative groups.
• These are the first elections in Georgia’s history in which the ruling party has not put forward its own candidate. Georgian Dream decided instead to support an independent candidate.
• The three most popular candidates are: Salome Zourabichvili, the independent candidate supported by the government; Grigol Vashadze of the united opposition, which largely consists of former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement and a number of smaller groups and parties; and European Georgia’s leader, Davit Bakradze.
• If Salome Zourabichvili wins, she will be the first female president of Georgia.
Salome Zourabichvili, #48. The candidate backed by Georgia’s government
Salome Zourabichvili was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia from 2004 to 2005 under Saakashvili’s government. Afterwards, she became a staunch opponent of Saakashvili, and began her own party which was never very popular.
She was chosen by the chairman of the Georgian Dream party, Bidzina Ivanishvili. Although she is not a member of Georgian Dream, the government and party have used their resources to help her election campaign. However, government representatives have repeatedly said that she is a non-partisan candidate.
Zourabichvili made several scandalous statements during the pre-election period. She said that Georgia was responsible for provoking the August 2008 war with Russia. The statement started a campaign on Facebook that was unprecedented in scale. Even individuals loyal to the Georgian Dream party participated.
Grigol Vashadze, #5. United Opposition candidate
The former ruling party of Mikhail Saakashvili, the United National Movement (UNM), has created an electoral coalition which consists of 10 smaller opposition parties. The alliance is called Strength in Unity and has put forward Grigol Vashadze as its presidential candidate.
Read also: Head of Georgia tells all before elections
Vashadze is an experienced diplomat. He headed the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs from December 2008 to October 2012 during the presidency of Saakashvili.
Career diplomat Vashadze is associated with Russia. He lived in Moscow for many years and only renounced his Russian citizenship in 2008. His foreign policy is pro-European. He is the husband of famous prima ballerina Nino Ananiashvili who actively participated in his election campaign.
David Bakradze, #2. European Georgia candidate
European Georgia, which split off from the United National Movement in 2016, nominated former speaker of parliament David Bakradze for the presidential elections.
Numerous polls indicate that Bakradze enjoys a high degree of popularity among the public. He participated in the presidential elections back in 2013 as a candidate of the UNM and received 21.73 per cent of the vote.
- The elected president will be inaugurated on 18 November if the election doesn’t continue to a second round.
- Almost all political observers and journalists admit that this election campaign season was one of the most tense and scandalous seasons in many years – a war of secret recordings and compromising information broke out.
- Audio recordings were released several days before the elections in which officials from Georgian Dream spoke of kidnapping, torture and fabricating high-profile cases. Businessmen further spoke out about racketeering carried out with the sanction of the government in which former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili was allegedly involved. The authorities say that not a single one of the recordings are authentic and deny all the charges against them.
- Statuses and avatars have been circulating among the Georgian Facebook community in recent months featuring images of Zourabichvili. In the pictures she was crossed out with the words “Russia started the war” written over them.