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Explainer: all you need to know about the race to be Georgia’s next president

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Explainer: all you need to know about the race to be Georgia’s next president

Explainer: all you need to know about the race to be Georgia’s next president
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Voters are set to cement Georgia’s pro-EU stance when they choose their next president on Sunday (October 28).

The three main runners for the role, which helps set the country’s geopolitical direction, all favour Brussels and NATO.

Here is our guide with what you need to know.

Who are the key runners and riders?

Salome Zurabishvili

Salome Zurabishvili: Some say the former foreign minister is the favourite to win the race to be Georgia’s next president.

Officially she’s independent but her cause could be helped by the endorsement she received by the ruling Georgian Dream party.

This is despite courting controversy by claiming that Georgia started a war with Russia a decade ago.

“Her trademark is her sharp and crude remarks,” said Max Fras, an expert on Georgia and visiting fellow at the London School of Economics’ European Institute.

“She is well-known for sharing off-the-cuff comments that are not always in line with official policy.

“She’s the most likely candidate to win but she is not a totally-known quantity. She might just go rogue and become more independent than Margvelashvili [the incumbent].

Grigol Vashadze

Grigol Vashadze: This is the candidate for Georgia’s main opposition, the United National Movement (UNM).

The party was founded by controversial ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, who was sentenced in absentia for abuse of power earlier this year.

“He is quite likely to pursue Saakashvili policies, a pro-EU and pro-NATO course and pardoning people who are sentenced under the current government, including pardoning Saakashvili,” Dr Fras told Euronews. “There is quite a huge element of risk with him.”

Tbilisi-born Vashadze, another ex-foreign minister, also served as a diplomat in Moscow during the Soviet era.

Dr Fras said Vashadze was not necessarily pro-Russian but that his connections with the country would upset some Georgians.

While he is not considered the frontrunner, he could benefit if accusations about corruption involving officials from ruling party Georgian Dream are proven (see below).

Davit Bakradze

Davit Bakradze: Another candidate to have been part of Saakashvili’s party, Bakradze is now part of the breakaway European Georgia movement.

“He’s got an excellent record as a conciliatory figure in Georgian politics and has done very good work in the parliament,” said Dr Fras.

“He’s got very good potential and brings different parties together and for a president, this is very helpful.”

Despite this, he is less likely to win than Zurabishvili and Vashadze, added Dr Fras.

Other candidates: They include Zurab Japaridze, a libertarian best known for appearing on television with a spliff to push for the legalisation of marijuana.

“If he gets more votes it might show the younger urban voters in Georgia are disillusioned with the current ruling party,” said Dr Fras, “but he’s definitely not going to win.”

There are pro-Russian nominees among the 25 candidates in the race to be president but none are expected to do very well, he added.

Which direction is Georgia likely to head?

While other countries on the fringes of the EU are a battleground for influence between Brussels and Moscow, Georgia is a bit different.

A conflict a decade ago with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia helped to put Tbilisi on a path to EU membership.

It signed an association agreement with Brussels in 2014 but is yet to request full membership.

“There is anti-Russian sentiment and the war was massive,” explained Dr Fras, “but Russia is just a much less attractive strategic partner.”

How could corruption play a role?

Earlier in October audio tapes emerged that appeared to show a corruption scheme between high-level government officials and the Georgian tobacco market, according to Transparency International in Georgia.

If any of the accusations are proven that could affect the popularity of Zurabishvili, said Dr Fras, because she is endorsed by the ruling Georgian Dream party, which is implicated in the scandal.

Whoever is elected could also have an impact on cleaning up suspicions of corruption in Georgia’s judiciary.

“The president has the power to appoint three judges to the constitutional court and a member to the high council of justice,” added Dr Fras. “They can tip the balance of power and make the judicial system have more integrity.

“At the core of this is the independence of the judiciary: there is a lot of evidence out there that the current judiciary serves political interests and whoever the ruling party in government is.”

How does it work?

There are 25 candidates officially on the ballot paper and the most popular will go through to a run-off vote.

That’s unless one of them gets more than 50% of the vote share, in which case they win the election outright.

While it’s unclear what the turnout will be, voters might want to grasp the last chance to directly-elect their president.

Constitutional changes mean in the future the president will be chosen by a 300-strong college of electors, which consists of MPs and regional government representatives.

The incumbent, Giorgi Margvelashvili, an independent candidate, has said he's not standing for re-election.