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Why Did So Few Georgians Vote For The New President?


A voter casting his ballot in Georgia's presidential election on October 27.

A voter casting his ballot in Georgia's presidential election on October 27.

Just 46.6 percent of Georgia’s estimated 3.5 million voters went to the polls on October 27 to vote for the successor to incumbent Mikheil Saakashvili, who was barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term. That was the lowest voter turnout in any presidential election in the past 23 years. When Saakashvili was reelected for his second term in January 2008, turnout was 56.2 percent (1.98 million voters), of whom 53.5 percent (1.06 million) voted for Saakashvili.

By contrast, Giorgi Margvelashvili, the victorious candidate from Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition, garnered 62.1 percent of the total votes cast on October 27, or fewer than 1 million votes. Ivanishvili had predicted a week before the election that Margvelashvili would take up to 65 percent of the vote in the event of high voter turnout.

There are at least three possible explanations for the low turnout. The first is logistical: the hundreds of thousands of Georgian citizens living and working in Russia were unable to cast ballots because Georgia severed diplomatic relations with Moscow in the wake of the August 2008 war over South Ossetia.

The second is that many people were aware that in light of the constitutional amendments passed three years ago transferring key prerogatives from the president to the prime minister, the new president would no longer be the most powerful political figure in the country, and thus the ballot was of less importance than previously.

The third is that some of the 1.18 million voters who cast their ballots for Georgian Dream in the October 2012 parliamentary ballot were disenchanted with the new leadership, and for that reason did not vote for Margvelashvili. But even more may have lost faith in Saakashvili’s United National Movement (ENM), which polled 867,432 votes (40.3%) in 2012; this time around its presidential candidate, Davit Bakradze, placed a distant second to Margvelashvili, with just 21.7 percent of the vote (340,000 actual votes).

Saakashvili nonetheless appears convinced that the ENM, of which he was elected chairman earlier this month, has a future. In a 40-minute televised address to the Georgian people on October 28, he affirmed that the presidential election outcome "creates a firm foundation for further struggles and victories." Whether that optimism is misplaced will become clear during municipal elections scheduled for spring 2014.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.

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