Georgia to return to polls – presidential candidates neck and neck
Almost 99 per cent of the votes have been counted, and no clear winner has emerged in the Georgian presidential elections.
The gap between the two favourites, the candidate supported by the ruling Georgian Dream Party and the leader of the united opposition party Strength in Unity, is less than one per cent.
• Salome Zourabichvili — 38.62 %
• Grigol Vashadze — 37.74 %
This means that for the first time in the history of Georgia, there will be a second round of voting.
An early celebration
The fact that these results were a shocking surprise to the authorities was first of all indicated by the fact that, after the polling stations closed at 20:00 pm, Zоurabichvili’s headquarters were already celebrating her victory. Former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili himself came out to congratulate Zourabichvili on her victory.
At the ruling party headquarters, officials had said that Zourabichvili was securely ahead and that the opposition was preparing for provocations.
Georgian Dream supporters rushed through the streets of Tbilisi and Bitumi with their cars, waving party flags and honking their horns.
A stage was already set up where a concert in honour of Zourabichvil’s victory was to take place. Georgian pop stars were also expected to take part.
The reason for such premature exultation was the results of exit polls commissioned by the Georgian Dream party which indicated that Zourabichvili would win in the first round, gaining 52.3% of the vote, while her competitor would receive only 28.1%.
However, a completely different picture was shown by exit polls commissioned by TV company Rustavi-2 and the European Georgia opposition party, which in the end turned out to be very close to the CEC’s result.
According to the first (conducted by Edison Research/Rustavi 2) exit poll, Zourabichvili and Vashadze each would receive 40 per cent of the vote. According to the second (conducted by BCG Research/European Georgia), Vashadze would receive 37% of the vote while Zurabishvili 34%.
When the first results began to arrive at midnight, the mood in the headquarters of the Georgian Dream party changed abruptly.
Speaker of Parliament Irakli Kobakhidze said that the country would go through a second round of voting early in the morning.
Opposition ready for victory in second round
Grigol Vashadze and the united opposition parties celebrated all night long. A Skype call was held on a large-screen with former president Mikheil Saakashvili, who himself said he did not expect such a stunning victory.
The central party of the opposition coalition, Strength in Unity, is also the United National Movement – the former ruling party of Georgia who is still informally lead by Mikheil Saakashvili.
After the preliminary results were announced, two opposition parties stated they would lend their support to Grigol Vashadze in the second round.
European Georgia candidate David Bakradze acknowledged his defeat immediately after the end of the vote, and congratulated Vashadze on his preliminary victory and promised to support him in the second round. This gesture did not go unnoticed in Georgia, where there is no political culture of admitting defeat and congratulating victors. He, like the election results, was also called by many analysts “historical”.
Another party that is ready to support Vashadze in the second round is the Republicans. It is worth nothing that until 2016, the Republicans were part of the Georgian Dream coalition and ardent opponents of the United National Movement.
Vashadze is expected to receive support from other opposition parties, including the Labor Party, whose leader, Shalva Natelashvili, received 3.7 percent of the vote.
There were 25 candidates who participated in the presidential elections. No further elections will be held through a direct vote after the second round of voting takes place. From 2023, an electoral college of 300 delegates will elect the president of Georgia.
Other details about the elections
Representatives of international observation missions who followed the electoral process and the vote count said at a briefing on Monday night that the presidential elections were held in accordance with the legislation of Georgia and without any serious violations. The presidential elections were monitored by 1,163 international observers.