Both the party of President Mikheil Saakashvili and the opposition have claimed victory in Georgia’s parliamentary election. Partial results, which began trickling in early on Tuesday morning, favored the opposition.
Supporters of the Georgian Dream coalition took to the streets of the capital, Tbilisi late on Monday to celebrate what they believed to be a victory for their opposition movement.
This was based on exit polls, which indicated that the Georgian Dream, led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, had won a majority of the 77 parliamentary seats that are elected on the basis of party lists. The exit polls however differed on how big an edge the opposition coalition had.
"I expect that we will get no less than 100 seats in the new parliament," Ivanishvili, told a cheering crowd of supporters. "I have achieved what I have long been striving for."
However, as Ivanishvili uttered those words, victory still appeared to be far from a sure thing.
President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM) claimed it had a made a strong showing in voting for parliament's other 73 seats, which are filled not through party lists but direct mandates.
Speaking on national television, Saakashvili said his party's advantage in constituencies in which lawmakers are elected directly was large enough to give it an overall majority in parliament.
Prison torture scandal
However, early official results released by Georgia's elections commission on Tuesday pointed to a clear victory for the opposition in voting by party lists. With about 10 percent of the votes counted, the Georgian Dream Coalition had 57 percent, compared with 38 percent for the UNM.
The last days of the election campaign had been marked by a prison torture scandal, which sparked a political uproar in Georgia. Videos broadcast on two television channels showed the torture and rape of male prisoners. Protesters took to the streets during the closing days of the campaign, forcing the interior minister and minister for corrections and legal assistance to step down.
As he cast his ballot on Monday, Saakashvili declared that the election would "decide the fate of Georgia."
During the campaign, the president, who came to power in the peaceful "Rose Revolution" of 2003, sought to portray his party as a guarantor of strong relations with the West, while claiming that a victory for the opposition would move the country closer to Moscow.
pfd/ch (Reuters, AFP, DAPD)