Zurabishvili wins Georgian presidency

28 November 2018
Salome Zurabishvili (Mari Nikuradze/OC Media)

Preliminary results in Georgia’s second round presidential run-off election show Salome Zurabishvili winning the presidency comfortably, with 60% of votes.

With 100% of votes counted, Zurabishvili, who was endorsed by the ruling Georgian Dream Party, beat her rival, the United National Movement’s Grigol Vashadze, who received just 40%.

After voting ended at 20:00, exit polls showed Zurabishvili on course to win.

Polling by ACT/Gallup International for the government leaning Imedi TV gave Zurabishvili the win, with 57%, with Vashadze, running under the Strength in Unity coalition, trailing behind on 43%.

Polling by Edison Research for opposition leaning Rustavi 2 gave Zurabishvili 55%, and Vashadze 45% by 17:00. Rustavi 2 did not release it’s final exit poll numbers.

[Read more about first round of Georgia’s presidential elections on OC Media: Georgian presidential election to go to second round]

Turnout was 56% in the run-off, much higher than in the first round turnout of 47%, with 330,000 more voters participating.

After preliminary exit polls were published, Bidzina Ivanishvili hosted a briefing thanking the electorate for making ‘the right choice’.

‘We can make a very positive assessment for both the first and second round results. The most important part is that our society has realised its power and understood that they have the leverage. Their reaction was absolutely adequate’, said Ivanishvili.

Bidzina Ivanishivli casting his ballot in the first round of president election (Mari Nikuradze/OC Media)

In a press briefing held after Ivanishvili’s speech, Salome Zurabishvili called the election [result] a ‘principled choice’ rejecting the past.

‘I intend to start a dialogue with the section of society that did not vote for us and disagrees with us, because we all are citizens of one state’, Zurabishvili said, vowing to ‘do everything’ to unite the country.

In the end, she thanked the Georgian Dream party and her children for their support, and promised journalists ‘very good cooperation’. Some in the media have been critical of her refusals to give comments.

Grigol Vashadze did not concede defeat, saying he remained hopeful that a large number of people voted for him in the last few hours.

‘It’s very important to wait for the final results of the exit polls, because a lot of people have gone to the polling stations after 17:00. Never in history has there been such “elections” in Georgia. The government bribed everyone they could’, said Vashadze.

The leader of the United National Movement, former president Mikheil Saakashvili, said he did not recognise the legitimacy of the elections or the results.

‘This dirty oligarch has torn up the constitution over our heads’, Saakashvili said, referring to Georgian Dream leader, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.

He called on supporters to hold demonstrations demanding snap parliamentary elections.

In a later comment, Nika Melia, one of the leaders of UNM, said the United Opposition coalition with all its members would decide the issue, and that Saakashvili represented only one of them.

Violations

Hundreds of Georgians received calls from the number ‘48’ throughout the day, in which the prerecorded voice of Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili called on them to go out and vote for Zurabishvili. ‘Lets say no to UNM and returning to the past’, said Ivanishvili.

The International Society for Fair Elections And Democracy (ISFED), a local watchdog observing elections told OC Media that making such calls does not violate the electoral code, as it states that campaigning on election day is forbidden only at the precincts and through TV and Radio.

Transparency International — Georgia and the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) said the run-off was held in ‘a largely peaceful environment’, but reported a number of problems, including high mobilisation of party activists outside precincts, like in case of the first round vote. The watchdogs also noted a trend of voters revealing who they voted to others.

Two hours before polls closed, GYLA demanded the Election Administration suspend voting and annul the results from the 49th precinct of the southern Georgian town of Marneuli, after they observed the same people voting multiple times.

They also claimed to have witnessed several people who had been sprayed with ink to show they had voted being obstructed from doing so again.

The United National Movement leader published a video on Facebook, showing Leonti Nadareishvili, a Georgian Dream City Council member from Abasha, accompanying a voter inside the voting booth in the Western Georgian town of Abasha.

As of 20:00, the UNM-led opposition coalition Strength in Unity claimed to have identified 918 violations.

(Mari Nikuradze/OC Media)

In a press briefing, Zaal Udumashvili, one of the leaders of the UNM, accused Georgian Dream of ‘attempting to use all the mechanisms of election fraud known in the world history of elections’.

Several hours before the end of voting, the head of the Electoral Administration Tamar Zhvania met Strength in Unity representatives Tina Bokuchava and David Jandieri.

The two opposition members told the media that they had reported violations of voter secrecy, party activists with lists containing voters’ photographs, and 'mass purge' of their observers from the voting precincts throughout the day.

Online Georgian news outlet On.ge reported that a party activist, allegedly from Georgian Dream, physically assaulted their journalist after she approached her and asked her questions. They have reported the incident to the police.

Controversies around election date

Setting election day during the middle of the week was heavily criticised by the opposition and several major civil society groups.

After the Election Administration’s late-night decision on 14 November, the UNM organised a protest outside its office. Zaal Udumashvili, one of the leaders of the Strength in Unity coalition, called the Election Administration’s building ‘Zurabishvili’s headquarters’ and assured the public that Vashadze would still come out on top.

Critics have argued that although the election day is a public holiday in Georgia, holding the vote on a weekday could still prevent some from participating — especially those who needed to travel to where they are formally registered.

This includes students and workers who have migrated to Tbilisi from elsewhere, as well as voters abroad for whom 28 November was not a day off.

Hours before the date was announced, three local watchdogs, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Transparency International — Georgia, and the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), urged the Election Administration to set the date for Saturday, 1 December instead, but without success.

(Mari Nikuradze/OC Media)

The Election Administration ruled that voting at 55 polling stations outside Georgia would be possible until midnight — to help them participate.

Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria also criticised the Election Administration’s decision the next day. She argued that due to internal migration, a weekend run-off date would be a better option.

‘Citizens have to cover long distances to go to the locations where they are registered. The weekend would have made it much easier than [a weekday], even if it’s a day off’, Lomjaria told journalists.

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