A near statistical tie between the ruling Georgian Dream’s handpicked candidate, French-born Salome Zurabishvili, and the opposition United National Movement’s (UNM) Grigol Vashadze has guaranteed that the South Caucasus nation will require a second round to decide who will be the country’s next president.
With both candidates having secured nearly 40% of the votes cast, Vashadze is in the best position to become president as the third place contender, former parliament speaker David Bakradze from the European Georgia party and who secured 11% of the vote, said he would throw his support behind Vashadze in effort to unseat the Georgian Dream, which has held unchecked power since defeating the staunchly pro-Western UNM in 2012.
The election is largely regarded as a referendum on the Georgian Dream’s founder and chair, former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, the eccentric billionaire oligarch who made his fortune in Russia in the 1990s. He holds no elected public office, but is widely understood to be the Svengali-like power behind the thrown in terms of the Georgian Dream’s policy and personnel decisions.
Zurabishvili, a former French diplomat, came under intense scrutiny in the weeks leading up to the first round due to her poor grasp of the Georgian language and her repeated assertion that Tbilisi was to blame for Russia’s invasion of the former Soviet republic in August 2008.
For his part, Vashadze has gained the backing of the overwhelming majority of Georgia’s pro-Western intelligentsia and reformers, many of whom point to the dramatic changes that occurred in the country in the years that the UNM was in power following the 2003 Rose Revolution that saw the endemically corrupt, Moscow-friendly government of former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze overthrown.
EU says no Eastern Partnership Summit in 2019
Ahead of a heavy schedule for the European institutions over the next year, including Elections to the European Parliament as well as a new European Commission and new European Council president that will be confirmed next autumn, which would complicate any efforts to make major decisions between the EU and the former Soviet republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine – the constituent members of the Partnership Agreement.
European Union officials have said that a high-level conference is expected to take place in Brussels on May 14 in place of the summit where the members will mark the marking the 10th anniversary of the signing of the agreement.
The Eastern Partnership framework, which aims to bring the six countries closer to the EU without the offer of eventual membership.
Georgia and Ukraine have comprehensive free trade association agreements with the EU as well as visa liberalisation regimes that allow for their citizens to travel to the Schengen Area without having to apply for a visa.
Belarus’ Lukashenko reiterates offer of peacekeeping role in Ukraine’s Donbass
In his latest attempt to be cast as a mediator in the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine, Belarus’ authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko has, once again, offered to deploy Belarusian troops to the war-torn Donbass region as part of a contingent of peacekeepers that would enforce a ceasefire agreement that Lukashenko helped broker in 2015.
“Do be so quick to reject this (idea). We are not trying to show off. The Ukrainian people respect our position and the role we have played since the beginning of the conflict; this is what our proposals is based on. We are ready to solve this problem if we are confident that the main players want peace in our common European home. There’s no one who wants to inflame the situation in Ukraine and make it a hotspot to fan tensions between Russia and Belarus…People are tired of this war (in Ukraine). Nobody needs this war. Not Belarus, Ukraine, or Russia,” said Lukashenko, who added that Belarus is ready to take responsibility for ensuring peace in Ukraine and exerting control over the Russian-Ukrainian border as well as assist in holding local elections.
Pashinyan vows to maintain Iran ties despite US’ warning
Just over a week after welcoming the highest-ranking US official to visit Armenia, the country’s acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said his country will pursue its own national interests and continue to have close relations with neighbouring Iran, one of Yerevan’s biggest trading partners.
“I reaffirm the position that we should have special relations with Iran and Georgia that would be as far outside geopolitical influences as possible. This position was very clearly formulated also during my meeting with Mr Bolton, and I think that the position of Armenia was clear, comprehensible, and even acceptable to representatives of the US delegation,” Pashinyan said.
US National Security Advisor John Bolton the Armenian capital of Yerevan as part of a South Caucasus tour where he had hoped to convince Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to support the Donald J. Trump’s initiative to isolate Iran through a new round of punishing economic sanctions that most experts believe is an attempt to foment regime change in the Islamic Republic.
While Pashinyan’s reformist agenda has focused on bringing Armenia out of a post-Soviet economic abyss that forces the landlocked nation to be nearly wholly dependent on Russia for energy and security, he was quick to point out that Yerevan has no interest in damaging relations with its southern neighbour.
“We respect any country’s statement and respect the national interests of any country, but the Republic of Armenia has its own national and state interests, which do not always coincide with the interests and ideas of other countries, any other country…Let no one doubt that we are fully building our activities on the basis of Armenia’s national interest – be it in our relations with the United States, Iran, Russia, all countries,” Pashinyan told Armenia’s national assembly after meeting with Bolton.
Bolton has since conceded that the Trump administration is unlikely to “squeeze Iran” by forcing other nations into halting the imports of Iranian oil.
“We understand, obviously, [that] a number of countries — some immediately surrounding Iran, some of which I just visited last week, others that have been purchasing oil [from Iran] — may not be able to go all the way to zero immediately. So, we want to achieve maximum pressure [on Iran], but we don’t want to harm friends and allies either, and we are working our way through that,” Controversial language bill could shutter Ukraine’s only English-language daily.