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bidzina ivanishvili


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Salome Zurabishvili has become Georgia’s first woman president after winning 59% of the vote.

The 66-year-old French-born ex-diplomat was backed by the ruling Georgian Dream party, while her rival, Grigol Vashadze was a united opposition candidate.

A new constitution is due to come into force, making the role of president largely ceremonial.

Salome Zurabishvili was born in Paris after her parents fled Georgia in 1921 following its annexation by Soviet forces.

She took up a career in the French Foreign Service and was posted to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, as ambassador in 2003. She later gave up her post and the then-president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, appointed her foreign minister.

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However, the strength of the vote for Salome Zurabishvili raises questions. In just a few weeks she managed to get 20% more votes than in the first round.

The vote is good news for the most powerful man in Georgia, billionaire Georgian Dream party chief Bidzina Ivanishvili.

It is the last direct election of a Georgian president, as the country is switching to a parliamentary system, following constitutional reforms adopted in 2017.

The presidential election is also seen as an indicator of how parliamentary elections in 2020 could go.

Georgia is seeking EU and NATO membership. But both ambitions are obstructed by Russia’s troop presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia – breakaway regions of Georgia.

The opposition complained of voting irregularities and attacks on its campaigners, but this has been denied by the ruling party.

Giorgi Margvelashvili – an ally of Georgian PM Bidzina Ivanishvili – has won the country’s presidential election, according to exit polls.

The polls give Giorgi Margvelashvili, 44, 66-68% of the vote. His closest rival, David Bakradze from the party of the incumbent, trailed with 20.2%.

David Bakradze has conceded defeat and congratulated Giorgi Margvelashvili.

The election marks an end to a decade in power for pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili, who was barred from seeking a third term.

But constitutional changes are planned to reduce presidential powers.

The exit polls were conducted by European market research organization GfK on behalf of Georgian private television station Rustavi2, and by ACT, a Georgian public opinion group.

Giorgi Margvelashvili is a member of PM Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream party

Giorgi Margvelashvili is a member of PM Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream party

Giorgi Margvelashvili is a member of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream party, which won parliamentary elections last year, ushering in the former Soviet republic’s first legal transfer of power.

The billionaire businessman also intends to resign as prime minister within weeks of the vote, saying he has achieved his aims.

Bidzina Ivanishvili has called the vote Georgia’s first “European-style election”.

Since coming to power in the bloodless 2003 “Rose Revolution” Mikheil Saakashvili has implemented reforms which helped root out corruption.

Mikheil Saakashvili pursued a pro-Western foreign policy and improved public services in the Caucasus republic, where poverty remains widespread.

Tensions with Moscow flared up into an armed conflict in August 2008.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is also Georgia’s richest man, has dismissed the outgoing president’s achievements, calling Mikheil Saakashvili a “liar” and a “dictator”.

He has indicated that Mikheil Saakashvili could face questioning or even prosecution over the alleged crimes of his government after his term ends.

Bidzina Ivanishvili has not yet named his party’s successor as prime minister.

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Georgians are going to the polls to vote for a new president, ending a decade in power for pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The frontrunner among the 23 candidates is Giorgi Margvelashvili – a close ally of PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, Mikheil Saakashvili’s bitter rival.

Following the polls, constitutional amendments will significantly reduce presidential powers.

Mikheil Saakashvili is barred from standing as he has already served two terms.

Bidzina Ivanishvili’s win in parliamentary elections last year ushered in the former Soviet republic’s first legal transfer of power.

The billionaire businessman also intends to resign within weeks of the vote, saying he has achieved his aims.

He has called Sunday’s vote Georgia’s “first European-style election”.

Polling stations are open from 08:00 local time until 20:00. Final results must be published no later than November 16.

Opinion polls suggest a win for philosopher and former Education Minister Giorgi Margvelashvili, a member of Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition

Opinion polls suggest a win for philosopher and former Education Minister Giorgi Margvelashvili, a member of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition

If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, a run-off between the two top-placed candidates must be held two weeks after the results of the first round are published.

Opinion polls suggest a win for philosopher and former Education Minister Giorgi Margvelashvili, a member of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition.

But a second round with David Bakratze, who represents Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) remains a possibility.

Nino Burjenadze, another top contender, is one the most well known female politicians in Georgia.

Georgia is moving closer to a parliamentary democracy although the president will formally remain the head of state and retain an important role in foreign policy, our correspondent adds.

Since coming to power in the bloodless 2003 “Rose Revolution” Mikheil Saakashvili has implemented reforms which helped root out corruption.

He pursued a pro-Western foreign policy and improved public services in the Caucasus republic, where poverty remains widespread.

But the country’s prime minister, who is also Georgia’s richest man, has dismissed these achievements, calling Mikheil Saakashvili a “liar” and a “dictator”.

Bidzina Ivanishvili has indicated that the outgoing president could face questioning or even prosecution over the alleged crimes of his government after his term ends. He has not yet named a successor as prime minister.

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Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has admitted his party has lost the parliamentary election, in a live TV announcement.

Mikheil Saakashvili said the Georgian Dream bloc of his main rival, billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, had won Monday’s election.

Victory for Bidzina Ivanishvili means the first democratic transfer of power in Georgia’s post-Soviet history.

Bidzina Ivanishvili said the “only right decision” would now be for Mikheil Saakashvili to resign.

While Bidzina Ivanishvili, 56, is set to become prime minister, his rival, who has led the country since 2003, is due to remain in power until presidential elections next year.

Under agreed reforms, the parliament and prime minister will acquire greater powers than the president after that election.

With results in from 72% of polling stations, Georgian Dream led the party list vote, which accounts for 77 of the 150 seats, with 54% of the vote. The president’s United National Movement was on 41%.

The rest of the seats are made up of 73 constituencies elected by a first-past-the-post vote.

President Mikheil Saakashvili said it was clear that Georgian Dream had won a majority.

Earlier Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s richest man, had already declared victory.

In his TV address, Mikheil Saakashvili said he would respect the Georgian people’s decision, and his party would become “an opposition force”.

“It’s clear from the preliminary results that the opposition has the lead and it should form the government – and I as president should help them with this.”

The US congratulated Georgians on the “historic milestone” of their parliamentary election and praised the president’s response to the result.

In a later news briefing, Bidzina Ivanishvili called on Mikheil Saakashvili to admit he would not be able to retain power, to resign and call a snap presidential election.

Mikheil Saakashvili, a pro-Western leader who champions the free market, has warned that the Georgian Dream bloc will move Georgia away from the West and back into Moscow’s sphere of influence. Russia defeated Georgian forces in a brief war in 2008.

But in his briefing Bidzina Ivanishvili said both normalization of relations with Russia and membership of NATO would be pursued.

“If you ask me <<America or Russia?>>, I say we need to have good relations with everybody,” Bidzina Ivanishvili said according to AFP news agency.

Bidzina Ivanishvili made his fortune in Russia in the early 1990s, with stakes in the metals industry, banking and later property, including hotels. Forbes business website estimates his wealth at $6.4 billion.

His success was welcomed in Moscow where Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said it would mean more “constructive forces” entering parliament.

Vyacheslav Nikonov, deputy head of the parliament’s international affairs committee in Moscow, said that in the eyes of both Dmitry Medvedev and President Vladimir Putin the Georgian president was a war criminal.

“Anything that would keep Saakashvili further away from the instruments of power is a plus for Russian-Georgian relations.”

It is a momentous day for Georgia – a day which strengthens the country’s democratic credentials. Georgia has experienced much political turmoil since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The ugly election campaign had polarized the country and there were fears that the results would be disputed.

Observers from the European security organization OSCE said that “despite a very polarizing campaign the Georgian people have freely expressed their will”.

Georgia’s Central Electoral Commission (CEC) said there had been no grave violations during the voting.

More than half of the country’s population has no proper job. Older and poorer Georgians, in particular, are struggling and some feel nostalgic about the Soviet Union.

The OSCE said the election process had “shown a healthy respect for fundamental freedoms… and we expect the final count will reflect the choice of the voters”.

However, the statement regretted “detentions and fines of mostly opposition-affiliated campaigners” during the campaign.

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Georgia’s governing party and the opposition have both claimed victory in the country’s parliamentary elections.

Early results suggest the opposition Georgian Dream coalition, led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, had a clear lead in votes for party lists.

But President Mikheil Saakashvili said his ruling party was ahead in the race for seats decided on a first-past-the-post basis – nearly half the total.

It is seen as his biggest popularity test since he came to power in 2003.

The election could bring the first democratic transfer of power in Georgia’s post-Soviet history.

It is not yet clear when official results from Monday’s vote will be announced.

Georgia’s Central Electoral Commission (CEC) said there had been no grave violations during the voting. Observers from the European security organization OSCE are due to give their verdict at 14:30.

According to the CEC’s early results, the rival blocs are running neck-and-neck in the 73 first-past-the-post constituencies.

The other 77 out of 150 parliamentary seats in total are decided by the proportional, party list method.

With 25% of the party list vote counted, Georgian Dream had secured 53%, while Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) had 41%.

Mikheil Saakashvili had sought to portray the election as a choice between his Western-leaning government, and a future in which he said Bidzina Ivanishvili would allow Russia to dominate the former Soviet republic. Bidzina Ivanishvili made his fortune in Russia in the early 1990s.

Tensions between Mikheil Saakashvili’s government and Russia escalated into a brief war in 2008 which saw Georgian troops expelled from two breakaway regions.

Thousands of cheering supporters of the opposition Georgian Dream bloc gathered to celebrate in the capital Tbilisi after the polls closed late on Monday.

“We have won! The Georgian people have won!” Bidzina Ivanishvili said in a speech broadcast on a Georgian TV station, the AFP news agency reports.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s richest man, said he expected his coalition to win 100 out of 150 parliamentary seats.

In televised comments, Mikheil Saakashvili conceded the opposition “has won the majority in the proportional vote”.

But he added that “in single-mandate constituencies, the majority of votes has been secured by Georgia’s [ruling] United National Movement”.

The UNM said it believed it had secured at least 53 of the 73 seats in the single-mandate constituencies, with a party’s spokeswoman predicting that it would have “a solid majority”.

The single mandate, first-past-the-post system helps to ensure that rural voters still have a voice. An MP representing a small district in the mountains is equal to one representing a large district in Tbilisi.

Under reforms scheduled to take effect after a presidential election next year the parliament and prime minister will have more power than the president.

The Central Electoral Commission said in a statement that turnout had been around 61%.

Earlier Bidzina Ivanishvili had staged a symbolic protest by refusing to vote, saying the authorities had “already resorted to very many violations”.

If the ruling party gets back into power despite failing to secure a majority of votes, the opposition could feel cheated of victory – and spark mass protests.

The government’s reputation has taken a battering in recent weeks because of a prisoner-abuse scandal.

Videos broadcast on national television showed prison inmates being beaten and sexually abused by guards.

The scandal sparked street protests and allowed Bidzina Ivanishvili to portray the government as high-handed.

Human rights group Amnesty International says many of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s supporters were “fined, fired, harassed or detained for expressing their political views” during the election campaign.

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Voters in Georgia are going to the polls in an election regarded as President Mikheil Saakashvili’s biggest test since he came to power in 2003.

Opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s richest man, accuses the president of acting undemocratically and trampling on people’s rights.

Mikheil Saakashvili says his opponent would allow Russia to dominate the former Soviet republic.

The president led the country in a short war with Russia in 2008.

He has sought to portray the election as a choice between his progressive Western-leaning government, and a future dominated by Russia.

“Tomorrow, our enemy has its last chance to turn us off our path of independence,” Mikheil Saakashvili said in a recorded address carried on state TV on Sunday.

“But I am confident that tomorrow our freedom-loving nation will take the ultimate and decisive step towards liberation from the pincers of the conqueror and towards integration into the house of Europe.”

The government’s reputation has taken a battering in recent weeks because of a prisoner-abuse scandal.

Videos broadcast on national television showed prison inmates being beaten and sexually abused by guards.

The scandal sparked street protests and has allowed Bidzina Ivanishvili to portray the government as high-handed and uncaring.

“This regime cannot be the leadership of our country. This system should collapse,” he told supporters of his Georgian Dream coalition at a rally on Saturday.

Analysts say the election is crucial because Georgia’s political system is being altered to give more power to parliament.

Mikheil Saakashvili’s second term as president ends next year, and he is constitutionally barred from standing again.

A parliamentary majority for his United National Movement could see him continue his domination of Georgian politics after he steps down.

Fist-fights are already a common feature of campaign meetings, and there are fears a dispute over the results could lead to violence.