The ruling Georgian Dream party in ex-Soviet Georgia leads in a parliamentary election on Saturday, the Central election commission (CEC) head said, citing preliminary results. Preliminary results were announced hours after two exit polls put the ruling party in first place following a tense vote widely seen as a test of political stability.
Tamar Zhvania told reporters that Georgian Dream got 52.67 per cent of the votes, while the opposition United National Movement (UNM) got 24.85 per cent. Zhvania said preliminary results were based on results from 22 per cent of the polling stations.
Criss-crossed by strategically important oil and gas pipelines and traditionally buffeted between Russia and the West, Georgia hopes to join the European Union and NATO one day even though that is something that Russia, its former colonial master, strongly opposes.
A fifth of Georgian territory remains under the control of pro-Russian separatists following a short war with Russia in 2008 and the economy is emerging from a deep slowdown that has eroded living standards.
Two exit polls showed that Georgian Dream, which is pro-Western but also favours closer Russia ties, won Saturday’s election. One poll, from international market researcher Kantar Public, put it on 53.8 per cent. Another, by international market researcher GfK, gave it 39.9 per cent.
Both put the opposition UNM in second place. Georgian Dream declared victory shortly after polls closed.
“I congratulate you with a big victory Georgia!” Prime Minister Georgy Kvirikashvili told jubilant supporters gathered outside the party’s headquarters in Tbilisi, the capital.
“According to all preliminary results, Georgian Dream is leading with a big advantage,” he said, as dozens of party members waved blue party flags and balloons.
Deputy Prime Minister Kakha Kaladze told Reuters the party’s own data showed it had won around 59 per cent of the vote. UNM leaders called on their supporters to gather outside the CEC.
Local observers reported about several violations during the vote count process. In one case, a group of unidentified attackers threw stones and smashed windows at two polling stations in the village of Jikhashkari in western Georgia, local observers said.
They also damaged the ballot box and attacked international and local observers at the spot, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) said in a statement.
The pre-election atmosphere in the nation of 3.7 million, a US ally, was marred by a car bomb that targeted an opposition deputy in Tbilisi. Givi Targamadze survived, but five passers-by were injured.
In a separate attack, two men were shot and wounded last Sunday at an election rally in the town of Gori, while on voting day itself disturbances broke out in the village of Kizilajlo in south-east Georgia where dozens of opposition protesters tried to storm a polling station demanding the vote be cancelled.
Georgian Dream, which came to power in 2012, is funded by tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, the country’s richest man, while the opposition UNM was founded by former president Mikheil Saakashvili.
“I’m happy that Georgian Dream has won. I believe that they will do more for people,” Murman Sanikidze, 37-year-old Tbilisi resident said on Saturday.
Although the economy is growing, many Georgians are unhappy with their living standards, which have been hit by a decline in exports and remittances. Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia, helped end UNM’s nine-year rule in 2012.
It was the first peaceful transfer of power since the 1991 Soviet collapse and followed protests over a scandal involving the mistreatment of prison inmates and accusations that Saakashvili, who was feted in the West for his reforms, was behaving in an authoritarian manner.
Under Georgian Dream, dozens of ex-officials have been arrested on charges such as abuse of power, and some Western countries have accused the government of selectively applying justice.
Saakashvili, now a regional politician in Ukraine, is wanted at home on a string of charges, including corruption. He says the charges are politically motivated.