Election shows democracy maturing in Georgia- observers

Reuters

* Ruling coalition's candidate won election

* Observers say fundamental freedoms respected

* Georgia's democracy is maturing - OSCE

By Margarita Antidze

TBILISI, Oct 28 (Reuters) - European observers on Mondaygave Georgia's presidential election a clean bill of health,saying it was "positive and transparent" and confirmed democracywas strengthening in the former Soviet republic.

"This clean election ... tells me that Georgia's democracyis maturing," said Joao Soares, head of the observer missionsent by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe(OSCE), Europe's main security and rights watchdog.

Partial results showed Sunday's election was won by GeorgyMargvelashvili, the candidate representing the ruling GeorgianDream coalition which ousted President Mikheil Saakashvili'sgovernment last year at the polls.

"In a positive and transparent election, the Georgian peoplehave confirmed last year's historic transfer of power," Soaresdeclared in a written statement which said fundamental freedomsof expression, movement and assembly were respected.

Saakashvili, who ruled for a decade, was unable to take partin the election because he had already served the maximum twoterms. Unlike previous elections in post-Soviet Georgia, thevote was free of major violations or violence.

"These elections are an important achievement for thecountry and for the entire South Caucasus region," saidMeritxell Mateu Pi, head of a delegation representing theParliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Margvelashvili's triumph concentrates power and will makepolicy-making easier because Ivanishvili's Georgian Dreamcoalition now controls both the presidency and the governmentfor the first time.

But the election is likely to provide only a brief respitefrom political uncertainty in the country of 4.5 million whichis strategically important for both Russia and Europe, whichgets Caspian gas and oil via pipelines that go through Georgia.

Margvelashvili is a little-know politician who was picked asa candidate by Ivanishvili. His main foreign policy goal is topursue close ties with both the West and Russia, a balance thathas long eluded Georgia.

Krzysztof Lisek, head of a European Parliament delegation,said the election was an important step for Georgia on its pathtowards closer ties with the European Union.

The Georgian government hopes to be able to initial an"association agreement", charting a course for deeperintegration with the EU, at a summit in the Lithuanian capitalof Vilnius next month.

Lisek said signing the agreement would depend on "tangibleprogress in the area of rule of law and democracy."

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