Shevardnadze expected to win in Georgian presidential election

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Two candidates running for the presidency of Georgia dropped out of the race Saturday, a day before the election.

Aslan Abashidze and Tengiz Asanidze removed their names from the ballot, according to Eka Peradze, a Central Election Commission official.

President Eduard Shevardnadze remains the country's most popular politician and is expected to win a second term. Opinion polls show him with approval ratings ranging from 40 percent to 52 percent. His closest rival among four other candidates, ex-Communist leader Dzhumber Patiashvili, has about 15 percent.

Before pulling out, Abashidze, the popular governor of the autonomous republic of Adzharia, had been running third with about 8 percent approval in the polls.

Asanidze, a former mayor of Batumi, the Adzharia capital, was running for president from prison, where he is serving an 8-year sentence for economic crimes. Although he was pardoned last year by Shevardnadze, Abashidze, a political foe, has refused to release him from jail.

Shevardnadze, 72, who became famous as Soviet foreign minister under Mikhail Gorbachev, helped to restore relative stability in Georgia after years of civil war. Most voters in the country of 5 million people see no real alternative but to stick with him.

"We should vote for Shevardnadze," said 80-year-old street cleaner Vakhtang Daseni the day before the election." There is nobody but him. He is wise, he will be able to correct things."

Still, Shevardnadze could be forced into a runoff against the next-highest vote winner if he fails to get more than 50 percent of the vote Sunday. He is not expected to repeat the landslide victory he achieved when he first won the presidency in 1995, four years after Georgia became independent following the break up of the Soviet Union.

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