|Georgia poll upsets opposition|
|May 23, 2008|
May 23, 2008
Mr Saakashvili said Wednesday’s vote was fair, but the rigging allegations and the threat of protests will test his claim to lead the most democratic state in the former Soviet Union.
The president needs a clean election to persuade sceptical European states it is worth defying Russian objections by making Georgia, a key transit route for oil and gas supplies from the Caspian Sea to Europe, a Nato member.
Mr Saakashvili said his United National Movement could get close to a constitutional majority — or two-thirds of the seats — in parliament. Partial results showed his party won more than 61% of the vote.
‘‘Yesterday was the triumph of the will of the Georgian people,’’ Mr Saakashvili said in an address to the nation. ‘‘No one can raise their hand against the will of the Georgian people.
‘‘Even I was astonished by the big level of support which we got in these parliamentary elections,’’ he added.
But the opposition said voters had been intimidated by officials and police and that the media had been dominated by coverage of the ruling party.
‘‘This was a criminal election,’’ David Gamkrelidze, one opposition leader, said. ‘‘We, together with the people, must achieve the cancellation of the election results and the calling of a new parliamentary election.’’
Europe’s leading election monitor, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), was to give its preliminary verdict on Wednesday’s election later yesterday.
Mr Saakashvili, a US-educated lawyer, swept to power in the peaceful 2003 ‘‘Rose’’ revolution. He promised market reforms and to re-orient his country towards Europe and the United States.
But the democratic credentials of the 40-year-old leader were tarnished when he sent riot troops to crush protests in November. He won a snap January poll which critics said was rigged.
Georgia’s $10 billion (318.8 billion) economy lies at the heart of the Caucasus, where the United States and Russia are jostling for influence over the oil and gas transit route.
It is locked in a dispute with Russia over its Nato ambitions and Moscow’s support for the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Tbilisi’s Western allies have taken its side in the row.
With over a half the ballots counted, the main opposition coalition bloc was in second place with 15.3%, according to the Central Election Commission.
The Christian Democratic Movement was third with 8% and the Labour Party fourth with 7%.
The election commission said the vote was fair.
Opposition coalition leader Levan Gachechiladze said as polling stations closed that he would call 100,000 people onto the streets. But only about 4,000 gathered in central Tbilisi on Wednesday night and spent the first bit of the protest watching the Champions League final.
‘‘The struggle against Saakashvili’s regime will continue every day until this regime departs forever,’’ said Mr Gachechiladze, who was once one of Mr Saakashvili’s allies.
Leaders of the coalition said they would meet later yesterday to decide their strategy. The opposition, which broadly supports closer ties with the West and Nato, says Mr Saakashvili’s rhetoric about democracy masks intolerance of dissent.
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