Saakashvili on course to win landslide victory in first round of presidential elections

By bne IntelliNews January 7, 2008

bne -

With two-thirds of the results in from the Georgian snap presidential election held on Saturday, January 5, incumbent President Mikheil Saakashvili is on course to win a landslide victory in the first round of voting.

According to the Georgian Central Election Commission, Saakashvili had 51.71% of the votes after results from 2,265 of the total of 3,512 polling stations were counted. If Saakashvili wins less than 50% of vote, a second round of voting will be held within three months. The final results of the first round are due to be published January 13.

United opposition candidate Levan Gachechiladze was in second place with 25.38% of the vote. Billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili was in third place with 6.51%. Shalva Natelashvili is in fourth place with 6.41% of the vote. David Gamkrelidze received 0.78% and Irina Sarishvili received 0.3% of the vote.

The results mean that even if there is a second round of voting, Saakashvili will almost certainly hold onto his job.

The president called the snap elections following mass opposition rallies in November headed by Gachechiladze that police dispersed using water cannons and tear gas, bringing down international condemnation.

While there is genuine dissatisfaction with Saakashvili's administration, he has transformed the economy, which grew about 15% in 2007 and over 10% in 2006, despite a Russian embargo on trade. At the same time he has pushed through some of the most radical reforms in the CIS and the IMF says that Georgia now has the best business supervision regime in the region.

Election observers from the CIS said there had been "no obvious offences" during the poll that "would have prevented citizens from freely stating their will."

"The early election for Georgian president on January 5, 2008 was on the whole organized in conformity with national election legislation. Our observers recorded no obvious offences that would have prevented citizens from freely stating their will," Nauryz Aidarov, head of the eight-nation mission and deputy chairman of the CIS executive Committee said, reported Interfax.

US Congressman Alcee Hastings, who heads the election monitoring mission sent in by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told a briefing on Sunday that the election had involved some offences, but that by and large it had been a democratic poll.

However, the Kremlin lashed out at the election, citing unnamed local media sources as alleging that there had been "numerous offences of election legislation on the part of the authorities."

"This has not come as a surprise bearing in mind the nature of the entire election campaign, which can hardly be called 'free and just.' It began under what was effectively a state of emergency. The presidential race was marked by a wide use of administrative resources, open pressure on opposition candidates and tight restrictions on their access to financial and media resources," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a press release posted on its website.

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