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Georgia election: Exit polls show country will change ruling parties

Giorgi Margvelashvili, the candidate backed by the current prime minister, is likely to win the presidency while the candidate backed by current President Mikhail Saakashvili is not expected to win.

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Supporters of Georgian presidential candidate Giorgi Margvelashvili celebrate after news of exit polls indicating his victory.

David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters

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Exit polls in Georgia's presidential election indicated a big win on Sunday for the candidate backed by billionaire Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, cementing his control over the U.S.-aligned former Soviet republic.

Giorgi Margvelashvili, a former university rector with limited political experience, should get about 67 percent of the vote, the exit polls predicted.

He will succeed Mikhail Saakashvili, who during nearly a decade in power put Georgia on the path toward democracy, but deeply angered many Georgians with what they saw as the excesses and authoritarian turn of the later years of his presidency.

His party's candidate, former parliamentary speaker David Bakradze, was in second place with 20 percent. Bakradze, who now heads the opposition in parliament, quickly congratulated Margvelashvili and said he was ready to work together with the prime minister and president.

The exit polls were conducted by the market research organization GfK and commissioned by Georgian private television station Rustavi2.

Even with Margvelashvili's convincing victory, much remains uncertain.

Ivanishvili has promised to step down next month and nominate a new prime minister, who is almost certain to be approved by parliament. Under Georgia's new parliamentary system, the next prime minister will acquire many of the powers previously held by the president.

Ivanishvili has not yet named his choice to lead the country. And he says he intends to maintain influence over the government, although how is not entirely clear. But his fortune, estimated at $5.3 billion, gives him considerable leverage in this country of 4.5 million people with a gross domestic product of $16 billion.

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