TBILISI (combined sources)—The candidate backed by the prime minister of Georgia has won the country’s presidential election, exit polls and preliminary results show.
The Central Election Commission published results from 75.38 percent of the country’s polling stations on Sunday, showing that the ruling party’s Giorgi Margvelashvili was winning with 62.18 percent of votes, while his closest rival Davit Bakradze from the outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili’s party, had managed to reach only 21.84 percent.
With Margvelashvili’s imminent victory in an unusually calm and predictable election, Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s prime minister, has cemented his political control.
Bakradze, who now heads the opposition in parliament, quickly conceded defeat.
Tamar Zhvania, the Central Election Commission chairman, said the elections were free and fair.
“Voters have expressed their will at the polling stations and voted for their candidates,” Zhvania told the Associated Press news agency.
“It is very important that everything was conducted in a peaceful environment, there have not been violations that could affect the results of the elections.”
The majority-Armenian-populated Javakhk region overwhelmingly voted for Margvelashvili, reported Akhalkalak.com news site.
The newly-elected president received 55.26 percent of the votes in Akhalkalak, 66.98 percent in Akhaltskhe and 71.3 percent in Ninodzminda.
On Monday, President Serzh Sarkisian sent a congratulatory message to Margvelashvili on his victory, reported the presidential press office.
Although Ivanishvili may now make more progress in decreasing tensions with Russia, he has maintained the pro-Western course set by Saakashvili.
The main uncertainty is over how Ivanishvili intends to govern and whether he is willing to see Saakashvili jailed.
During nearly a decade in power, Saakashvili put Georgia on the path towards democracy.
However, he also deeply angered many Georgians with what they saw as the excesses and authoritarian turn of the later years of his presidency.
Ivanishvili has promised to step down next month and nominate a new prime minister, who is almost certain to be approved by parliament.
Under Georgia’s new parliamentary system, the next prime minister will acquire many of the powers previously held by the president.
Ivanishvili has not yet named his choice to be the next prime minister, and although he says he intends to maintain influence over the government, it is not entirely clear how.
But his fortune, estimated at $5.3 billion, gives him considerable leverage in this country of 4.5 million people, which has a gross domestic product of $16 billion.
Much uncertainty also hangs over Saakashvili’s future. Since last year’s election and what was in effect a transfer of power, dozens of people from his camp, including several former government ministers, have been hit with criminal charges and some have been jailed, including the former prime minister.
Ivanishvili confirmed in an interview with the Associated Press that Saakashvili also is likely to be questioned by prosecutors once he leaves office next month.
Saakashvili, in a conciliatory televised address on Sunday evening, called on his supporters to accept the will of the majority and keep working to integrate Georgia into Europe.
Prosecutors have reopened a criminal inquiry into the 2005 death of Zurab Zhvania, who was Saakashvili’s first prime minister.
Zhvania’s death was attributed to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a faulty gas heater, but his brother has accused Saakashvili of hiding the truth.