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Georgia's presidential election will go to a second round run-off after no candidate won more than 50% of Sunday’s vote, according to preliminary results from the Election Administration. With over 99% of votes counted, Georgian Dream–endorsed candidate Salome Zurabishvili leads with 39% of votes with the UNM’s Grigol Vashadze in second with 38%.
A runoff will take place between the two no later than 1 December.
According to the Election Administration, turnout for Sunday’s vote was 46.7%, almost identical to the 46.6% during the previous president election in 2013.
Around an hour before the first preliminary results came in, Georgian Dream’s Irakli Kobakhidze, Speaker of Parliament, conceded that a second round would be ‘needed’.
‘We said that nearly every second voter supports Georgian Dream. In this case, it was almost like this, but we were just short of winning in the first round.’
‘We are confident in winning the second round.’
According to the preliminary results, European Georgia’s David Bakradze trailed behind in third with 11%.
Shalva Natelashvili of the Labour Party received 4%, while Zurab Japaridze of libertarian party Girchi and Davit Usupashvili of the Free Democrats both won 2%.
Transparency International — Georgia pointed to a 'large number of [party activists…] outside of nearly every district’, with vehicles where voters got in and out suggesting possible voter buying.
In one precinct in west Georgia’s Zugdidi, they reported an electoral commission member putting several envelopes into the ballot box — which they said was a basis for invalidating the election results of the precinct. The Interior Ministry did not confirm the incident.
Before the polls closed, Georgian rights group the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) reported several possible criminal offences, including coercion of voters, voter bribery, and one case in which someone attempted to force an observer out of the polling station.
However, GYLA also said that the violations did not substantially influence the voting process.
The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), a Georgian watchdog, monitored polling stations in the country throughout the day.
According to ISFED observers, the ‘disturbing trend of mobilisation of party activists still continues and is happening across the districts’.
‘These activists are noting which voters go to the stations. This method is mostly used by activists from Georgian Dream, however, representatives of the United National Movement were using similar tactics’, a report from ISFED said.
They said voting proceeded in a ‘calm environment’, however certain procedural violations regarding ballot papers were recorded.
‘As of this statement, ISFED has filed 48 complaints at the Precinct Electoral Commissions (PECs) and 43 complaints filed at the District Electoral Commissions (DECs)’, an ISFED report summing up their fundings by 17:00 said.
Throughout the day, Georgian media reported widespread cases of party activists present at polling stations throughout Georgia. People with papers were observed near polling stations throughout the day, marking people who had gone to the polls.
Georgian legislation does not prohibit this, however, a number of local NGOs have condemned the practice, stating it could influence the elections.
Pictures allegedly confirming that party activists from several parties paid people to vote for their candidate have been posted online.
Polling stations in areas with high levels of ethnic minorities saw the most controversy. In Marneuli’s 59th polling station, in the village of Irimi, two people were arrested.
Police said UNM and Georgian Dream members were arrested for violence at the polling station and disobeying police.
Conflicting exit polls
The three exit polls conducted delivered widely different results.
After polling stations closed across the country at 20:00, Rustavi 2 published their exit poll conducted by Edison Research. It suggested both Zurabishvili and Vashadze won 40% of votes each, putting European Georgia candidate Davit Bakradze in third place with 10%.
Exit polls from the ruling Georgian Dream Party conducted by Psychoproject suggested there will be no runoff, giving Zurabishvili 52%, with Vashadze and Bakradze trailing behind on 28% and 9% respectively.
The third exit poll, commissioned by European Georgia and conducted by BCG Research, suggested there will be a runoff, putting Grigol Vashadze in the lead with 37%, Zurabishvili in second with 35%, and Bakradze in third with 17%.
Following the Georgian Dream’s exit poll announcement, Zurabishvili expressed excitement about the outcome.
‘Whatever the electorate decides, it will be acceptable and trustworthy for me. I would like to thank my electorate once more. For now, it seems there will not be a runoff, therefore I’m very happy.’
‘Still, I’m going to wait for the Election Administration results to come late at night’, she added.
While visiting Zurabishvili’s election headquarters, Georgian Dream party chair Bidzina Ivanishvili claimed that results from the Election Administration would be ‘close to the 53%–54%’ that they had ‘predicted’ earlier. He added that UNM members had planned ‘incidents’ but that ‘police were mobilised’ to prevent them.
After European Georgia announced their exit poll gave Vashadze the win, their candidate, Davit Bakradze, said he would support Vashadze in the second round despite ‘fundamental differences’ between them.
Kakha Kaladze, Tbilisi Mayor and General Secretary of Georgian Dream, called the United National Movement and European Georgia 'two branches of the same dead tree'.
European Georgia was founded in January 2017 by prominent members of the UNM, after a split over former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s role as head of the party.
Vashadze expressed confidence he would succeed in runoffs.
‘Be confident that I will win runoffs as well’, Vashadze said after the Rustavi 2 exit polls came out.
‘I have been convincing you that since we were listening to thousands of Georgian citizens we were sure that if the government decided to have decent elections, we would win in the very first round. Georgian Dream must see that their time is running out’, said Vashadze.