Georgian electoral officials say preliminary results from Georgia's presidential election show an ally of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili is the clear winner in a vote that Western observers praised as a "clean" step forward.
The Election Commission said on October 28 that with nearly all the ballots counted from the previous day's election, Giorgi Margvelashvili, the candidate of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, had won just over 62 percent of the vote.
"We managed to hold this election in a special way," Margvelashvili said. "It is very important amid the contradictions we have lived through. It was a special occasion for Georgia -- not only as a former Soviet republic -- to have a European-syle election campaign and a European-style election day."
Davit Bakradze, the candidate of the United National Movement of outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili, was second with nearly 22 percent and has conceded.
Former parliamentary speaker and Rose Revolution figure Nino Burjanadze had 10 percent but disputed the vote, accusing both front-runners of vote fraud.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the election was "positive and transparent."
"In a positive and transparent election, the Georgian people have confirmed last year's historic and unique -- as far as former Soviet countries are concerned -- peaceful transfer of power," Joao Soares, the head of the OSCE observer mission for the election, said. "This clean election, following a political cohabitation that was also unique -- as far as former Soviet countries are concerned -- tells that Georgia's democracy is maturing."
Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, in remarks to RFE/RL also praised the poll.
"The EU congratulates [Georgian] President-elect Giorgi Margvelashvili. We also congratulate Georgia on what appears to have been a well-managed election," Mann said. "It is clear that the last year's parliamentary election was part of a pattern of consistent improvement to democratic institutions, and we understand that while observers are reporting some issues -- similar to some of the issues reported last year -- the overall picture is encouraging."
The election commission said there were no major violations. It said voter turnout was 46.6 percent.
A jubilant Margvelashvili said the election result will bring about a "consolidation of democracy."
"Today is an extremely important day because this is a very calm and European standard voting process," Margvelashvili said. "This [election] will bring the consolidation of democracy and consolidation of the political course which will make our country and our nation into a real European state."
Saakashvili said he was disappointed in the election results, calling them "a serious setback for Georgia and for its future prospects."
However, he called on his supporters to respect the election outcome.
"The presidential election already took place. Georgia elected a new president," Saakashvili said. "And I would like to thank every voter who took part in this election because independent of its outcome, every election always helps to develop democracy in our country and democracy is the main pillar upon which our political system is based, and something which we are very proud of."
Saakashvili, who has been in office since 2004, was barred by the constitution from running for a third term.
Bitter rival Ivanishvili warned as recently as last week that Saakashvili could face prosecution for alleged crimes in multiple cases.
U.S. and EU officials have warned of the danger in Georgia of what they called, respectively, "selective justice" or the "politics of revenge."
A Georgian court handed down a nearly four-year jail sentence
on October 28 against Saakashvili-era cabinet minister Bacho Akhalaia -- the first such conviction with other cases against former officials pending.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow hopes the new Georgian administration will pursue policies friendly to Russia.
"As to the evaluation of the possible impact of this election on the future development of Russian-Georgian relations, the ball is in the court of the Georgian authorities," Lavrov said. "As far as I understand, they are now in the business of forming the government -- there have been reports that the current Prime Minister [Ivanishvili] is going to leave this job. So we wish the Georgian people to take care of all the organizational issues, including the formation of the new governing bodies, as soon as possible. We shall hope that the Russia-related policies of these new authorities will be friendly and in the spirit of good neighborly relations."
Georgia broke diplomatic relations with Moscow after a five-day war in August 2008 over the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia.
Under a constitutional amendment that was to have entered into force after the October 28 election, the Georgian presidency has been weakened, with many key powers transferred to the prime minister.
Ivanishvili, whose Georgian Dream coalition defeated Saakashvili's United National Movement in parliamentary elections last year, has pledged to step down after a new president is elected and nominate a new prime minister.
The chairman of the parliament's Legal Committee, Vakhtang Khmaladze, told reporters the new president will be inaugurated on November 17.
Margvelashvili, 44, emerged as a little-known academic with scant government experience, serving as a minister after Ivanishvili's movement won last year’s elections.
Based on reporting by RFE/RL's Georgian Service, RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Rikard Jozwiak, AP, dpa, and Interfax