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Georgia's presidential election was ready for the runoff

TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgia's presidential election was likely to go to a second round, as early official results on Sunday…

TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgia’s presidential election was likely to go to a second round, as early official results on Sunday showed none of the front runners enough votes to secure the victory.

A woman voted at a poll station in Tbilisi, Georgia October 28, 2018. REUTERS / David Mdzinarishvili

French-born ruling party candidate Salome Zurabishvili had 43.2 percent of the vote and her opposition striker Grigol Vashadze won 34.7 percent based on results from 28 percent of the polling stations, the Central Elections Commission (CEC) said on its website.

“It is obvious now that there will be another round between Salome Zurabishvili and Grigol Vashadze,” said Iraqi Kobakhidze, government executive secretary, to journalists.

The second round of voting will occur no later than 1

December.

A vote ordered by independent TV station Rustavi-2 suggested Zurabishvili, a former French career diplomat serving as Georgia’s Foreign Minister from 2004-2005, was in the neck of Vashadze, another former Foreign Minister supported by an opposition coalition.

The survey predicted that no candidate would win more than 50 percent of the vote and the two would meet a resignation.

Candidate David Bakradze, former parliamentary speaker who emerged in the frontrunners, said he would support Vashadze in the second round.

Zurabishvili, 66, was born to Georgian emigrant parents in France and served as a French ambassador to Georgia before becoming Georgia’s Foreign Minister.

Supporters say she would get international stature for the presidency; Opponents criticize her for statements that seemed to blame Georgia for war against Russia in 2008, minority remarks that some saw as xenophobic and uncomfortable commands in the Georgian language, which she speaks with an accent.

Zurabishvili was invited to Georgian politics by former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who gave his Georgian citizenship to lead his foreign ministry but hit her after a year. She then set up her own opposition party, which she led until 2010 before he temporarily stopped politics and returned to France.

She was elected to Georgia’s Parliament in 2016, supported by Georgia’s dream, a party controlled by Bidzina Ivanishvili, the richest man in the country, whose critics say he rules Georgia behind the scenes.

Constitutional changes have weakened the presidency’s power, which put the most authority at the prime ministerial office.

However, the post is still considered important for the image abroad by a country strongly oriented to the West, fearing Russia, which was invaded a decade ago and supported separatists in two disrupted regions.

Sunday’s election was the last where the president will be elected by voting. After that, the presidents will be picked by a presidential college of 300 legislators and regional officials.

The country of 3.7 million people is Washington’s strategic allies in the Caucasus region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and hope that they will eventually join the EU and NATO. Pipelines transporting Caspian oil and gas to Europe extend across its territory.

Editing Peter Graff and Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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