Rul­ing party wins Ge­or­gia vote, op­po­si­tion al­leges fraud

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The rul­ing Ge­or­gian Dream party won Ge­or­gia’s par­lia­men­tary polls, early re­sults showed yes­ter­day, though ac­cu­sa­tions of vote fraud from the op­po­si­tion sparked fears of political in­sta­bil­ity in the Cau­ca­sus na­tion.

Ge­or­gia’s West­ern al­lies are 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.

With votes from more than 82 per­cent of precincts counted, the cen­tral elec­tion com­mis­sion said Ge­or­gian Dream was lead­ing main op­po­si­tion force the United Na­tional Move­ment (UNM) by 49.26 per­cent to 26.46 per­cent. For the first time in Ge­or­gia’s post-Soviet his­tory, a small pro-Rus­sian party, Al­liance of Pa­tri­ots, re­ceived five per­cent of the vote needed to en­ter par­lia­ment. West­ern ob­servers said polls were com­pet­i­tive though noted pro­ce­dural prob­lems dur­ing count­ing. Af­ter vot­ing closed on Satur­day the Ge­or­gian Dream was quick to de­clare vic­tory based on exit polls which gave it a strong lead over the UNM. “This was a truly free and fair elec­tion, which firmly ce­ments Ge­or­gia’s democ­racy,” Ge­or­gian Prime Min­is­ter Giorgi Kvirikashvili said af­ter the vote ended. But the UNM ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of at­tempts to “steal elec­tions” and held a protest rally out­side the cen­tral elec­tion com­mis­sion. “Votes have been stolen from us. We will de­fend our votes,” Nika Melia, chief of UNM’s cam­paign and an MP can­di­date, told protesters. Most op­po­si­tion par­ties, in­clud­ing Demo­cratic Ge­or­gia, the Labour Party, and the State for Peo­ple, also cried foul, ac­cus­ing the gov­ern­ment of “mas­sive vote rig­ging.”

But in­ter­na­tional ob­servers from the OSCE, NATO, Coun­cil of Europe and Euro­pean Par­lia­ment said the elec­tions “were com­pet­i­tive, well-ad­min­is­tered and fun­da­men­tal free­doms were gen­er­ally re­spected.”“The calm and open cam­paign at­mos­phere was, how­ever, im­pacted by al­le­ga­tions of un­law­ful cam­paign­ing and some in­ci­dents of vi­o­lence,” the mon­i­tors said in a joint state­ment. Ahead of the vote, elec­tion mon­i­tors and op­po­si­tion politi­cians had noted that Ge­or­gia’s elec­toral en­vi­ron­ment and fi­nanc­ing give an un­fair ad­van­tage to the rul­ing party, which could po­ten­tially af­fect the vote’s out­come. Ge­or­gian Dream, led be­hind the scenes by bil­lion­aire ex-premier Bidz­ina Ivan­ishvili, and the UNM founded by ex­iled for­mer pres­i­dent Mikheil Saakashvili, had been neck-and-neck in opin­ion polls ahead of the elec­tion. Pol­i­tics is still dom­i­nated by Saakashvili and Ivan­ishvili even though nei­ther holds an of­fi­cial po­si­tion.

The vot­ing per­cent­ages that have so far been re­leased are for a pro­por­tional bal­lot that will de­cide 77 of the 150 seats in the leg­is­la­ture. The fig­ures may not nec­es­sar­ily be re­flected in par­lia­men­tary seats be­cause al­most half will be de­ter­mined on a first-past-the-post ba­sis rather than by the pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion sys­tem. Due to the coun­try’s com­plex elec­tion rules the fi­nal makeup of the 150-seat par­lia­ment may only be­come clear by late Novem­ber, af­ter sec­ond round runoffs in most of the sin­gle-man­date con­stituen­cies.

Cli­mate of ha­tred

Ten­sions rose ahead of the vote in the ex-Soviet repub­lic-which fought a brief war with Russia in 2008 and seeks EU and NATO mem­ber­ship-af­ter a car bomb­ing and shoot­ing in­ci­dent at a rally. The cam­paign was 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. — AFP

TBIL­ISI, GE­OR­GIA: In­ter­na­tional ob­servers from the OSCE, NATO, Coun­cil of Europe and Euro­pean Par­lia­ment at­tend a press con­fer­ence af­ter Ge­or­gia’s par­lia­men­tary elec­tion in Tbil­isi yes­ter­day. —AFP

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