x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

PM’s ally claims win in Georgia presidential poll as rival concedes

Giorgi Margvelashvili, an ally of Georgia’s billionaire prime minister, claims crushing first-round victory in presidential vote after his main opponent conceded defeat.

TBILISI // An ally of Georgia’s billionaire prime minister claimed a crushing first-round victory in a presidential vote on Sunday after his main opponent conceded defeat and exit polls pointed to an overwhelming win.

Giorgi Margvelashvili, a little-known academic from the prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition, had at least 66 per cent of the vote in two television exit polls.

He was well ahead of the former parliament speaker David Bakradze of the outgoing president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement party, who was in second place with about 20 per cent.

“I thank you all so much. It is our shared victory,” Mr Margvelashvili told cheering supporters at a rally in Tbilisi.

Fireworks let off by the candidates’ supporters lit up the evening sky in the capital shortly after polls closed in the ex-Soviet Caucasus nation of some 4.5 million.

Mr Bakradze quickly conceded defeat, saying he accepted the result of the exit polls.

“I congratulate Giorgi Margvelashvili on his electoral win and the trust expressed in him by the Georgian people,” he said in televised comments.

The vote brings an end to a decade in power for Mr Saakashvili, a US ally, and a fractious year-long cohabitation with his arch-enemy Mr Ivanishvili, who has promised to also step down in the coming weeks.

Mr Ivanishvili, 57, wrested power from Mr Saakashvili’s party in parliamentary polls last year, marking Georgia’s first orderly transition of power.

If his election is confirmed, Mr Margvelashvili will assume a weakened role as constitutional changes will see the next president cede many key powers to the prime minister.

Georgia under Mr Saakashvili made joining Nato and the European Union a main priority, and Mr Margvelashvili has pledged to press on with that drive.

* Agence France-Presse