Georgia Votes for New President
TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Georgia is voting for a new president 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, 45, is Georgy Margvelashvili, 44, a member of the Georgian Dream coalition which defeated the president's cabinet in an election a year ago.
Opinion polls put Margvelashvili, formerly a vice premier, ahead of the two other main candidates - David Bakradze, a member of Saakashvili's United National Movement who was parliamentary speaker; and Nino Burjanadze, a leader of the 2003 Rose Revolution that toppled Eduard Shevardnadze.
The campaign, in contrast to many previous elections in post-Soviet Georgia, has been peaceful, Al Jazeera reported.
Margvelashvili is little known. His main foreign-policy goal is to pursue close ties both with the West and with Russia - a balance the country has long failed to achieve.
He says he will refuse to take part in a run-off if he fails to win outright by securing more than half the votes.
The departure of Saakashvili, a pro-Western leader who has served the maximum two terms, should end the feuding that has hindered policy-making and the investment climate, and cement Georgian Dream's hold on power.
However, the future is clouded by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's decision to step aside as well.
The retreat of Ivanishvili, Georgia's richest man and Georgian Dream's leader, increases uncertainty in a country that is strategically important for Russia and Europe, which receives Caspian oil and gas through pipelines via Georgia.
Ivanishvili, 57, has dominated politics in the South Caucasus country since entering politics two years ago, but says his job will be complete once Saakashvili departs.
After the election, constitutional changes take effect which will shift power from the presidency to the government and parliament.