" Diplomats hope that Ivanishvili and Saakashvili will retreat from the country’s political life" - Financial Times
09 October, 2016
" Diplomats hope that Ivanishvili and Saakashvili will retreat from the country’s political life" - Financial Times
Two exit polls showed Georgia’s ruling party ahead in parliamentary elections on Saturday, in a broadly peaceful vote that confirmed the country’s status as a standard-bearer for democracy in the region, the Financial Times reports.

"Georgia, with a strategic location in the Caucasus along oil and gas supply routes, is a key western ally in the former Soviet Union. A fifth of its territory is under Russian control in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia following a five-day war
with Russia in 2008.

The election campaign has been dominated by the rivalry between Bidzina Ivanishvili, the mercurial billionaire who founded the ruling Georgian Dream party, and Mikheil Saakahsivli, the charismatic but divisive former president who is now governor of Odessa in Ukraine.

The lead for Georgian Dream reported by the exit polls, if confirmed, would be a blow to Mr Saakashvili’s ambitions to return to Georgia, as he had promised to do if his United National Movement party won.

Mr Ivanishvili, who formally retired from politics in 2013 but is widely seen as the puppet-master of the ruling Georgian Dream party, congratulated supporters on Saturday evening, claiming a “huge victory”.

The two exit polls reported wildly different margins of victory for Mr Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream party. But both – including that commissioned by Rustavi 2, a channel seen as being close to UNM – showed Georgian Dream ahead, in line with pre-election analyst expectations.

The result is unlikely to alter Georgia’s pro-western foreign policy, with both Georgian Dream and UNM favouring closer ties with the west after Tbilisi signed an association agreement and free trade deal with the EU in 2014.

Should the victory for Georgian Dream be confirmed, western diplomats – and many Georgians – hope that Mr Ivanishvili and Mr Saakashvili will retreat from the country’s political life. That would draw to a close an acrimonious personal conflict that has consumed Georgian politics since 2012, when Mr Ivanishvili assembled Georgian Dream with the express goal of removing Mr Saakashvili from power.

Mr Saakashvili himself appeared to play down his intentions of returning to Georgia, telling Ukrainian TV that he “would not abandon my huge plans to help Ukraine”, regardless of the Georgian election result.

The relatively low turnout of 51.6 per cent, compared to 60.8 per cent in 2012, appeared to confirm voters’ disillusionment with both major parties. The image of Mr Saakashvili’s UNM is tainted by its final years in power, when it became increasingly harsh in its intolerance of dissent. And Mr Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition has failed to deliver on its ambitious promises as Georgia’s economy has slowed sharply, with growth last year the weakest since 2009.

Observers said that the vote was calm by the tumultuous standards of Georgian politics. In one exception to a generally peaceful election day, a group of men attacked a polling station in Marneuli, to the south of the capital Tbilisi.

“So far today has been quieter than previous elections and that is positive,” said Hans Gutbrod, an independent analyst on the Caucasus.

Giorgi Kvirikashvili, prime minister and leader of Georgian Dream, said that the vote “firmly cements Georgia’s democracy”.

The final makeup of the parliament is unlikely to be clear for several weeks. While 77 out of 150 seats are determined by proportional representation, the remaining 73 are elected in local constituencies, which will go to a run-off if no one candidate secures at least half of the vote," the Financial Times informs.
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