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Europe

Saakashvili Sweeps 'Predominantly Fair' Parliamentary Elections

Georgia's opposition is threatening protests and a parliamentary boycott after a landslide victory for President Mikhail Saakashvili's party. Observers say the election was fairer than previous polls but still flawed.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and his wife Sandra Roelofs are leaves voting booths at a polling station in Tbilisi, Georgia, Wednesday, May. 21, 2008.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili -- a controversial figure

The Georgian election commission said Friday, May 23, that pro-Western President Mikhail Saakashvili's United National Movement won the parliamentary polls this week with 59.5 percent of the vote -- trailed by the United Opposition Council with 17.7 percent.

The party won 120 of 150 parliamentary seats assigned by constituency and a crushing majority of the other half of the seats, allocated proportionally according to the national vote, the electoral commission said.

Rigged

But the opposition said the poll had been rigged and threatened protests and a parliamentary boycott.

"These elections don't reflect the people's choice and the people's will. We are not recognizing the results," David Gamkrelidze of the New Rights party said in televised remarks.

"The opposition is seriously considering the possibility of boycotting the new parliament," he said, echoing other opposition leaders.

Scrutinized

The elections were intensely scrutinized by outside powers as Georgia is engaged in a stand-off with its Soviet-era master Russia over two separatist Georgian regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

A number of EU states rallied to Saakashvili's side after the election that international observers described as an improvement on previous polls but still flawed.

Election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Thursday that Georgia had clearly intended a democratic vote but that there had been "problems," including intimidation of voters.

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country currently holds the European Union presidency, described the vote as "encouraging."

The EU commissioner for external relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said the elections showed "substantial progress."

The presidents of Lithuania and Poland, countries that were under Moscow's control in the Soviet era, also praised the vote.

"Important step"

Berlin said the elections represented an "important step" towards democracy and called on all parties to work together to press ahead with reforms.

"The government congratulates the people of Georgia on the peaceful and on the whole fair elections ... With this, Georgia has made a further important step towards a democratic society," foreign ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said. "After this intensive and at times strongly polarizing vote we call on all political powers in Georgia to work constructively together in parliament to implement its reform work," he added.

He said that although the election was not "free of imperfections" there was a "significant improvement" compared to presidential elections in January.

Pro-western

Georgian officials cast the international criticism in a positive light, saying the observers must be applying higher standards as the country moves closer to Western-style democracy.

When he came to power in 2004, Saakashvili was initially hailed as a reformer, but was criticized last November after sending riot police to suppress an opposition protest, shutting a critical television station and briefly imposing emergency rule.

Georgia has long sought Western support in its stand-off with Russia and this week's vote was seen a test of its ability to meet democratic standards.

Ahead of the election, Saakashvili said Georgia had come close to war in its dispute with Russia over the separatist territories.

Behind the dispute lies his pro-Western course and drive to join NATO, analysts say.

The opposition supports joining NATO in principle but has accused Saakashvili of arrogance and of ignoring the plight of the poor.

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