TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgia's presidential election is likely to go into a second round as the first official results on Sunday showed none of the leaders with enough votes to win.
A woman votes during the presidential election in Tbilisi, Georgia on October 28, 2018. REUTERS / David Mdzinarischwili
French ruling party Salome Zurabishvili had 43.2 percent of the vote and her opposition rival Grigol Vashadze won 34.7 percent based on results from 28 percent of polling stations, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) said on their website.
"It is obvious that there will now be the second round between Salome Zurabishvili and Grigol Vashadze," said the head of the ruling party Irakli Kobakhidze told reporters.
The second round of the election takes place no later than December 1
A poll commissioned by the independent television channel Rustavi-2 revealed Surabishvili, a former French career diplomat who was Georgia's foreign minister from 2004 to 2005, was neck and neck with Vashadze, another former foreign minister backed by an opposition coalition.
In this poll, it was predicted that no candidate would receive more than 50 percent of the vote and the two would get a runoff vote.
Candidate David Bakradze, former Speaker of Parliament who stood behind the leaders, said he would support Vashadze in the second round.
Zurabishvili, 66, was born to Georgian emigrant parents in France and served as French ambassador to Georgia before becoming Georgia's foreign minister.
Proponents say they would give the presidency international standing; Opponents criticize them for statements that blamed Georgia in 2008 for the war with Russia, remarks on minorities that some have taken to be xenophobic and inconsistent in the Georgian language, which she speaks with an accent.
Zurabishvili was invited by former President Mikheil Saakashvili into Georgian politics, who gave her Georgian citizenship to head his foreign ministry, but was released after a year. She then founded her own opposition party, which she led until 2010, before she temporarily left politics and returned to France.
With support from Georgian Dream, she was elected to the Georgian Parliament in 2016, a party controlled by Bidzina Ivanishvili, the country's richest man, whose critics say he governs Georgia behind the scenes.
Constitutional amendments have weakened the power of the presidency and placed most of the powers in the office of prime minister.
But the post is still considered important to the image of a country that is strongly Western-oriented and fearful of Russia, which invaded ten years ago and supports separatists in two breakaway regions.
Sunday's election was the last one to elect the president by referendum; Afterwards, the presidents are selected by an electoral college of 300 deputies and regional officials.
The 3.7 million-strong country is Washington's strategic ally in the Caucasus region, between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, and hopes to join the EU and NATO. Caspian oil and gas pipelines to Europe pass through its territory.
Cut by Peter Graff and Cynthia Osterman