Ruling party wins Georgia vote, opposition alleges fraud
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