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Georgia looks ahead after election shake-up

Opposition coalition Georgian Dream has claimed victory in parliamentary elections, and President Mikheil Saakashvili conceded, saying his United National Movement (UNM) party would go into opposition.

According to preliminary results by the Central Election Commission, opposition coalition Georgian Dream received 53 percent of the vote, which puts them ahead of UNM's 41 percent. Georgia's electoral system allocates 77 of the 150 parliamentary seats by party lists; the remaining seats are obtained in individual constituencies. Voter turnout was 61 percent.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili (photo: AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov)

Outgoing President Saakashvili announced his party's defeat

Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili - who said he was confident to become prime minister - founded the six-party opposition movement at the beginning of this year. As soon as initial results indicated that Georgian Dream was on top, supporters celebrated on the streets in Tbilisi. Thousands gathered at the capital's central Freedom Square, overjoyed that Georgia's opposition had won an election - and not started another revolution. No clashes took place between supporters of Ivanishvili and those of Saakashvili, who had gathered at the party's headquarters in the city center.

Ready to cooperate

Ivanishvili was the first to address his voters. He thanked them for their trust and stressed that he wanted to continue Georgia's foreign policy course with regard to joining NATO. He said he would respect national minorities' interests and pledged his willingness to cooperate. Winning the election was the "beginning of a dream," Ivanishvili said. He also warned his supporters not to show any aggression towards supporters of Saakashvili's party, whom he called "brothers."

Georgia's billionaire and opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, right, mingles with his supporters during a rally (photo: AP Photo/Georgy Abdaladze)

Opposition leader Ivanishvili (right) came out on top

Saakashvili spoke about 30 minutes after his contender's address. In a TV speech, he addressed all Georgians and thanked them for their active participation in the poll.

Who will be head of government?

This election is of particular importance as the new parliament will get additional competencies this year. The constitutional changes will come into effect after the presidential election in October 2013. The previous presidential system will be replaced with a parliamentary system. The prime minister will no longer be proposed by the president, but by the strongest parliamentary faction. The president also loses his authority on domestic and foreign policies.

Observers assume Saakashvili wants to become prime minister in 2013 - that's why he has agreed to the constitutional amendment. He can no longer run for president next year after two terms in office. But Ivanshvili also aspires to fill the prime minister's position, one that has become even more powerful.

Observers report violations

Inside a polling station (photo: Amaliya Oganjanyan)

Observers said there were attempts to tamper with election results

But while celebrations were underway in Georgia's capital, voting irregularities were reported in Georgia's provinces. Opposition members accused the ruling party of having tried to forge results. Media reports said there were tensions in the town of Khashuri, where special units appeared at polling stations to quell protests. Allegations had emerged that election vote protocols disappeared from a polling station. Georgia's interior ministry refused these reports and said no special units were sent to polling stations.

Several NGOs have already demanded that the results of some polling stations be annulled. In particular, this concerned instances in which members of the ruling party were reported to have campaigned at polling stations and put pressure on voters.

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