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Saakashvili’s return to Georgia after elections unlikely, experts say

MOSCOW, October 29. /TASS/. The results of the first round of Georgian presidential elections have demonstrated that the United National Movement party (supporters of former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili) may be able to come into power on the wave of society’s dissatisfaction with the policies of the ruling party. However, this does not mean that the former president’s return is likely, Russian political experts told TASS.

According to the expert of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS) Konstantin Tasits, the election results were "for the most part, predictable." "However, the high results of the candidate of the former ruling party United National Movement and its ten partner organizations Grigol Vashadze (he earned 37.74% of the vote - TASS) came as some surprise," he noted. "It is a warning sign for the current government."

The expert reminded that the president does not hold a lot of power in Georgia, with the prime minister taking on most of the duties. However, he noted that the low results in the presidential elections might serve as a sign of trouble for the ruling party Georgian Dream in the parliamentary elections, set to take place in two years.

Senior Research Fellow with the Center for Caucasus Studies and Regional Security at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) Nikolai Silaev noted that while the society has expressed dissatisfaction with the ruling party, it does not mean that Georgia wishes for Saakashvili’s return. "In any case, there will be no triumphant return," he said. "All this can lead to political instability, to a prolonged domestic policy crisis."

Both experts agreed that Russian-Georgian relations would not change drastically, regardless of which candidate wins the presidency. "All key political parties of Georgia support Euro-Atlantic integration, pro-Western policy course," Tasits noted. "The only thing they are ready for is to build pragmatic relations in the spheres [of economy and culture], which do not concern political issues."

According to the Georgian Election Commission, Georgia’s independent presidential candidate Salome Zurabishvili has received 38.63% of the vote, while her key rival Grigol Vashadze, nominated by the United National Movement party, has secured 37.74% of the vote. Both candidates will go to runoff no later than December 2, as the first round of the elections was deemed too close to call.