Pro-West­ern Ge­or­gia holds knife-edge vote Elec­tions spark fears of po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ge­or­gians voted yes­ter­day in bit­terly con­tested par­lia­men­tary polls that have sparked fears of po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity in the Cau­ca­sus na­tion, with two pro-West­ern par­ties tied after a fraught cam­paign.

The knife-edge elec­tions see the rul­ing Ge­or­gian Dream party, led from be­hind the scenes by bil­lion­aire ex-PM Bidz­ina Ivan­ishvili, grap­pling with the United Na­tional Move­ment (UNM), founded by ex­iled for­mer pres­i­dent Mikheil Saakashvili.

Ten­sions have risen ahead of the vote in the ex-Soviet re­pub­licwhich fought a brief war with Rus­sia in 2008 and seeks EU and NATO mem­ber­ship-after a car bomb­ing and shoot­ing in­ci­dent at a rally.

Ge­or­gia’s West­ern al­lies will be watch­ing closely to see if the strate­gic na­tion-praised as a rare ex­am­ple of democ­racy in the for­mer Soviet re­gion-can ce­ment gains after its first trans­fer of power at the bal­lot box four years ago. “We are mak­ing a step to­wards strength­en­ing our coun­try and democ­racy,” Ge­or­gia’s Pres­i­dent Giorgi Margve­lashvili told jour­nal­ists after cast­ing his bal­lot.

“I voted for the Ge­or­gian par­lia­ment where many po­lit­i­cal par­ties will be rep­re­sented,” he said.

Ge­or­gian Prime Min­is­ter Giorgi Kvirikashvili has promised free and fair polls, which “will mark a truly im­por­tant step to the fu­ture of demo­cratic Ge­or­gia.”

But ob­servers re­ported iso­lated in­stances of pro­ce­dural vi­o­la­tions and noted that Ge­or­gia’s elec­toral en­vi­ron­ment and fi­nanc­ing give an un­fair ad­van­tage to the rul­ing party, which could po­ten­tially af­fect the vote’s out­come. Turnout was 34.8 per­cent at 1100 GMT, seven hours after polls opened, the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion (CEC) said.

“A to­tal of 46 com­plaints on pro­ce­dural vi­o­la­tions were filed by po­lit­i­cal par­ties and ob­servers to district elec­tion com­mis­sions,” CEC spokes­woman Kete­van Janelidze told AFP.

Pol­i­tics is still dom­i­nated by Saakashvili and Ivan­ishvili even though nei­ther holds an of­fi­cial po­si­tion, and their par­ties are hop­ing to score land­slide vic­to­ries.

No out­right win­ner?

But opin­ion polls have the two neck and neck in the race to form the next govern­ment, leav­ing an­a­lysts warn­ing the coun­try of 3.7 mil­lion could slip into po­lit­i­cal tur­moil if there is no out­right win­ner. “The most likely out­come is that there will be no out­right win­ner,” said po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Gia No­dia, adding that a coali­tion govern­ment will be tough due to “lots of hard feel­ings be­tween par­ties.”

Due to the coun­try’s com­plex elec­tion rules the fi­nal makeup of the 150-seat par­lia­ment may only be­come clear by late Novem­ber. While the two main par­ties re­main firmly com­mit­ted to Ge­or­gia’s proWestern tra­jec­tory, for the first time in decades the vote may see one of sev­eral small pro-Rus­sian par­ties make it to the par­lia­ment.

“If an anti-West­ern party se­cures a bar­gain­ing power in form­ing a coali­tion, that may have a neg­a­tive im­pact on Ge­or­gia’s bid for mem­ber­ship of the Euro­pean Union and NATO,” Cor­neli Kakachia, di­rec­tor of the Ge­or­gian In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics, told AFP.

‘Cli­mate of ha­tred’

The cam­paign has been marred by Wed­nes­day’s at­tempted mur­der of a UNM law­maker whose car ex­ploded in cen­tral Tbil­isi, in­jur­ing four passers-by. The bomb­ing prompted UNM to ac­cuse au­thor­i­ties of “cre­at­ing a cli­mate of ha­tred in which op­po­si­tion politi­cians are be­ing at­tacked”.

It came after two men were in­jured when un­known as­sailants on Sun­day fired shots dur­ing a cam­paign rally held by an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date in the cen­tral city of Gori. The poi­sonous at­mos­phere around the po­larised vote fol­lows years of what the op­po­si­tion sees as po­lit­i­cal witch hunts and ret­ri­bu­tion against Saakashvili and his team. Saakashvili, a charis­matic re­former who took over in the Rose Rev­o­lu­tion of 2003, was forced out of the coun­try after prose­cu­tors is­sued an ar­rest war­rant for abuse of power and now works as a re­gional gov­er­nor in pro-West­ern Ukraine.

The crack­down on his al­lies has prompted con­cerns among Ge­or­gia’s West­ern al­lies that the coun­try could back­slide after its sole orderly trans­fer of power in 2012.

The ex-pres­i­dent has pledged to re­turn after the elec­tions but the au­thor­i­ties warn they will de­tain him if he steps foot in the coun­try. Vot­ing, which started at 0400 GMT and ended at 1600 GMT, was be­ing mon­i­tored by in­ter­na­tional ob­servers from the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Se­cu­rity and Co­op­er­a­tion in Europe. Exit polls from TV sta­tions loyal to the two ri­val sides were set to be re­leased when vot­ing ended. —AFP

TBIL­ISI: A man leaves a vot­ing booth at a polling station dur­ing the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in Tbil­isi yes­ter­day. —AFP

BU­DAPEST: A news­stand in­clud­ing papers with Nep­sz­abad­sag daily is pic­tured in Bu­dapest yes­ter­day. Head­line of Nep­sz­abad­sag reads: “Or­ban not both­ered by he­li­copter­ing”. —AP

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