* Election ends Saakashvili's decade in power
* Governing coalition's candidate wins - exit polls
* Prime Minister Ivanishvili plans to step aside
By Margarita Antidze and Timothy Heritage
TBILISI, Oct 27 A little-known ally of
billionaire Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili won a landslide
victory in Georgia's presidential election on Sunday, cementing
the ruling coalition's grip on power after Mikheil Saakashvili's
Georgy Margvelashvili's triumph concentrates power and will
make policy-making easier in the former Soviet republic because
Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition now controls both the
presidency and the government for the first time.
Exit polls showed the margin of victory was so large that
the candidate from Saakashvili's party, David Bakradze, conceded
victory to Margvelashvili even before the official count began.
Georgian Dream supporters released dozens of balloons in the
coalition's blue and white colours outside its headquarters in
the capital Tbilisi, sounded car horns in the packed streets and
chanted: "Long live Georgy".
"We have shown the world how free people make a free
choice," Margvelashvili, a 44-year-old former vice premier with
a doctorate in philosophy, told cheering supporters.
He wrapped his arm around the shoulders of Ivanishvili, who
plucked him out of academia when Georgian Dream ousted
Saakashvili's government at the polls a year ago, and praised
him as the "biggest authority" in the South Caucasus country.
Margvelashvili had needed one vote over 50 percent of the
ballots cast to secure victory without a run-off. GfK, a
European market research group, put him on 66.1 percent and ACT,
a Georgian research group, estimated he would win 68 percent.
But the election is likely to provide only a brief respite
from political uncertainty in the country of 4.5 million which
is strategically important for both Russia and Europe, which
gets Caspian gas and oil via pipelines that go through Georgia.
PRIME MINISTER TO STEP ASIDE
Ivanishvili, Georgian Dream's founder and the most powerful
and richest man in Georgia with an estimated fortune of $5.3
billion, says he will step aside soon because his job will be
complete when his 45-year-old rival leaves the presidency.
He has not said who will be the next prime minister - the
most important job in Georgia under constitutional changes that
are about to go into affect - or how he might continue to bring
influence to bear on the coalition from the sidelines.
The European Union is also worried by the arrest of several
former ministers and other officials, including a former prime
minister, and that Saakashvili could suffer the same fate.
Georgians are openly speculating that Saakashvili might soon
leave the country to avoid prosecution.
He went on television soon after voting ended to say he was
worried about Georgia's immediate future. But, echoing his
decision to quickly concede victory to Georgian Dream after last
year's parliamentary election to ease tension, he sought calm.
"I think the events of the past year and today, and the
results today, are a serious setback for Georgia and its
future," he said. "But at the same time I am sure the dark
forces will not be able to get any stronger and that Georgia has
a good future."
Poverty remains a problem and, after years of robust growth,
gross domestic product grew 1.5 percent in the second quarter
this year, down from 8.2 percent in the same period a year ago.
Margvelashvili owes his rise to Ivanishvili's patronage and
his lack of political experience may have helped him in a
country where voters are weary of squabbling among politicians.
"He is a new type of politician, a new generation," Gogi
Popkhadze, 35 and unemployed, said as he voted for
Margvelashvili in bright sunshine in Tbilisi.
Margvelashvili's main foreign policy goal is to pursue close
ties with both the West and Russia, a balance that has long
Saakashvili strengthened democracy and launched economic
reforms after coming to power following the bloodless "rose
revolution" in 2003 that ousted Eduard Shevardnadze.
He strengthened ties with Washington and became a Western
darling but lost a brief war to Russia in 2008 over two rebel
Georgian regions and failed to reform the justice system.