Georgia’s president-elect unveils priorities as EU and observers praise election
Georgian Dream coalition’s Georgy Margvelashvili takes 62% of vote
Georgia’s president-elect Georgy Margvelashvili following his landslide victory in Georgia’s presidential election on Sunday. Photograph David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters
Georgia will not allow political persecution and will seek better relations with Russia, the country’s new president has pledged, as the European Union and international observers hailed Sunday’s election in the Black Sea state as an example to its ex-Soviet neighbours.
Georgy Margvelashvili (44) of the Georgian Dream coalition took 62 per cent of votes, well clear of Davit Bakradze of the United National Movement (UNM), which is loyal to the head of state for the last decade, Mikheil Saakashvili.
Victory for Mr Margvelashvili is also a triumph for the man who plucked him from academia, billionaire prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who last year led Georgian Dream to an unexpected parliamentary election win over the UNM.
Mr Saakashvili has accused Mr Ivanishvili of being too soft in his dealings with Russia, which props up two breakaway regions of Georgia – Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow recognised their self-declared independence after fighting Georgia in a 2008 war, which Mr Ivanishvili and many Georgians believe was badly handled by Mr Saakashvili.
Georgia “will continue to follow a correct and consistent policy of normalising relations with the Russian Federation”, said Mr Margvelashvili yesterday, noting the economic benefits of Russia’s recent removal of a ban on imports of Georgian wine, mineral water, fruit and vegetables.
“Relations are extremely difficult . . . but we are resolute that there will be no aggression or destructive actions from us.” He repeated that Tbilisi would never recognise the sovereignty of Abkhazia or South Ossetia. Mr Margvelashvili also rejected claims that Mr Saakashvili’s allies had been the targets of politically motivated prosecutions since Georgian Dream took power.
Former defence minister Bacho Akhalaia was yesterday sentenced to three years and nine months in jail for using excessive force to quell prison riots in 2006. Seven inmates died and 22 were injured in the violence, which took place when Mr Akhalaia ran Georgia’s prison service.
Mr Saakashvili may now come under investigation over events that took place during his time in power, including how the war with Russia began and was conducted.
“Political persecution contradicts the ideas and the principles of a modern European state, and there will be none of it in Georgia,” said Mr Margvelashvili.
Tbilisi hopes to initial landmark deals on political association and free trade with the EU next month, further distancing itself from Russia and strengthening ties with the West.
Brussels yesterday praised the conduct of the presidential election. “We congratulate president-elect Georgy Margvelashvili on his victory and the Georgian people on this demonstration of their country’s strong democratic credentials,” said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele.
Western observers issued positive election reports.