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Ex-French ambassador leads in Georgian presidential elections

Vano Shlamov, AFP | Presidental candidate Salome Zurabishvili, supported by the ruling Georgian Dream party, reacts after voting at a polling station in Tbilisi on October 28, 2018, during the first round of the Georgian presidential election.

Georgia's presidential election will go to a runoff after no single candidate won outright in the first round of voting, the country's Central Election Commission (CEC) said on Monday.


After 100 percent of the votes from the first round of voting, which was held on Sunday, had been counted French-born former diplomat Salome Zurabishvili had secured 38.7 percent of the vote, while Grigol Vashadze, a former foreign minister, had won 37.7 percent of the vote, the CEC said.

Tamar Zhvania, the head of the CEC, said that there were some irregularities, but that no serious violations had taken place during the election.

Zurabishvili was backed by the ruling Georgian Dream Party, while Vashadze was running on behalf of a new platform of 11 opposition parties led by former president Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM).

The second round of voting will occur no later than December 2.

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

Zurabishvili, 66, was born to Georgian emigre parents in France and served as French ambassador to Georgia before becoming Georgia's foreign minister.

Supporters say she would bring international stature to the presidency; opponents criticise her for statements that appeared to blame Georgia for the war with Russia in 2008, remarks about minorities that some saw as xenophobic and unsteady command of the Georgian language, which she speaks with an accent.

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

Living the Georgian Dream

She was elected to Georgia's parliament in 2016 with the backing of Georgian Dream, a party controlled by Bidzina Ivanishvili, the country's richest man, whose critics say rules Georgia from behind the scenes.

Constitutional changes have weakened the power of the presidency, putting most authority in the office of prime minister.

But the post is still seen as important for the image abroad of a country strongly oriented towards the West and fearful of Russia, which invaded a decade ago and backs separatists in two breakaway regions.

Sunday's election was the last in which the president will be selected by popular vote. After that, presidents will be picked by an electoral college of 300 lawmakers and regional officials.

The country of 3.7 million people is Washington's strategic ally in the Caucasus region between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, and hopes eventually to join the EU and NATO. Pipelines carrying Caspian oil and gas to Europe run across its territory.


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