Georgia’s Zurabishvili, backed by ruling party, wins presidential runoff – exit polls

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Georgian presidential candidate Salome Zurabishvili has won the country’s runoff by securing more than 50 percent of the votes, according to exit poll data commissioned by Georgian media outlets.

The 66-year-old former foreign minister and ambassador to France won 58 percent of the ballots, according to the poll conducted by Gallup International for Imedi television. She is supported by the ruling Georgian Dream party.

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A separate poll by Edison Research for Rustavi-2 television put Zurabishvili at gaining 55 percent of the votes, with opposition candidate Grigol Vashadze taking home 45 percent.

Vashadze, who is backed by an alliance led by former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UVM) party, has refused to acknowledge the exit polls or to admit defeat until the final results are announced.

Saakashvili has already slammed the election as not being legitimate. “I urge Georgian society not to recognize the results of these elections,” he said, while stating that he will “never recognize” the perceived rule of Georgian Dream party founder Bidzina Ivanishvili. Georgia’s richest man, Ivanishvili stepped down as premier in 2013 after serving just one year in office. However, he is still seen by some as the country’s de facto ruler.

Ahead of the exit poll data, opposition and rights groups accused the government of planning to rig the vote in Zurabishvili’s favor. They also accused Tbilisi of voter intimidation and claimed that ruling party activists had attacked members of Vashadze’s campaign staff.

Meanwhile, Zurabishvili said she and her children have received death threats through text and voice messages from people affiliated with the UNM.

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The second round of voting took place after the first round on October 28 led to Zurabishvili failing to win more than 50 percent of the vote, instead gaining 39 percent. Vashadze won 38 percent, forcing a run-off.

The vote is Georgia’s last direct leadership election, as the country is transitioning to a parliamentary form of governance.

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