Georgians vote for new president

Georgians vote for new president

TBILISI - Reuters
Georgians vote for new president

Presidential candidate Georgy Margvelashvili (C) talks to a woman as he visits a polling station during the presidential election in Tbilisi, October 27, 2013. REUTERS photo

Georgia voted for a new president Oct. 27 in an election that will bring the curtain down on Mikheil Saakashvili's decade-long rule but is unlikely to end political uncertainty in the former Soviet republic.

The front-runner to replace Saakashvili, a pro-Western leader who has served the maximum two terms, is Georgy Margvelashvili, a member of the Georgian Dream coalition which ousted the president's cabinet in an election a year ago.

Saakashvili's departure should end feuding that has hindered policy-making and the investment climate, and cement Georgian Dream's hold on power, but the future is clouded by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's decision to step aside as well.

The imminent retreat of Ivanishvili, the nation's richest man and Georgian Dream's leader, increases uncertainty in a country that is strategically important for Russia and Europe, which gets Caspian oil and gas through pipelines via Georgia.

Ivanishvili, 57, entered politics in the South Caucasus country only two years ago after making a fortune in business, but says his job will be complete when Saakashvili departs.

After the election, constitutional changes take effect which will shift power from the presidency to the government and parliament. No major policy changes are expected but Ivanishvili has not said who will be prime minister.

"This is not only a presidential election, but it's also a major change in the political system in Georgia," said Helen Khoshtaria, an independent political analyst.