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Early results show a lead for Georgia's opposition

Partial results in Georgia’s parliamentary election show a majority for the opposition coalition. An opposition victory could mean a political shift of the volatile Caucasus country away from the West closer to Russia.

Opposition leader and billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili said on Tuesday he was confident of becoming prime minister of the former Soviet republic of Georgia as partial results indicated his opposition coalition was set to win the parliamentary election.

"It looks like there will be a completely different parliament," Ivanishvili said in an early morning broadcast on the opposition's Channel 9 television channel, which he owns.

With ballots from 21 percent of polling stations counted under the party list system, the electoral commission reported the opposition coalition Georgian Dream had 54.3 percent, while President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement stood at 40.6 percent.

Georgia's electoral system allocates 77 of the 150 parliament seats according to party lists and the other 73 according to constituent victories.

Watch video 01:42

Georgia's opposition leads in vote count

The electoral commission said preliminary counts showed Georgian Dream won 27 of the 73 races in constituencies, and the UNM had won 25. The ballots from the other 21 remain uncounted.

Ivanishvili's supporters were celebrating as early as Monday night on the streets of the capital Tbilisi despite rival victory claims by the United National Movement.

Casting 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.

Ivanishvili has made a fortune mainly by doing business in Russia and has rejected ruling party accusations claiming he is a Russian stooge. He laid out plans he would pursue as prime minister, saying a balanced budget would be a priority.

If the opposition wins this would be the first peaceful transfer of power since the Caucasus country won independence when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

rg/hc (dpa, Reuters)

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