Georgia: Ruling party set to win contested vote amid accusations of vote rigging

The figures are for a proportional ballot that will decide 77 of the 150 seats in the legislature.

By: AFP | Tbilisi | Published:October 9, 2016 9:50 am

The ruling Georgian Dream party topped Georgia’s legislative polls, official early results showed on Sunday, but accusations of vote rigging from the opposition sparked fears of political instability in the Caucasus nation. With votes from over 54 per cent of precincts counted, the central election commission said Georgian Dream was leading main opposition force the United National Movement (UNM) by 50.44 per cent to 26.67 per cent.

The figures are for a proportional ballot that will decide 77 of the 150 seats in the legislature. 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. 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, claiming that the electoral victory belonged to his party. Several opposition parties — such as the Labour Party, Alliance of Patriots, and Democratic Georgia — cried foul, accusing the government of massive vote rigging.

The voting percentages that have been released so far 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.

Georgian Dream, led from 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. 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.

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. “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 observers reported instances of procedural violations.