Georgia tensions rise after polls

2012-10-02 09:04
Georgian billionaire and opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili reacts with supporters at his office in Tbilisi Georgia. (AP)

Georgian billionaire and opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili reacts with supporters at his office in Tbilisi Georgia. (AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Tbilisi - Georgia on Tuesday awaited the outcome of hard-fought parliamentary polls as the opposition threatened a dramatic victory over President Mikheil Saakashvili's long-dominant ruling party.

Supporters of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream opposition coalition celebrated into the night after exit polls offered them hope of winning Monday's vote but a complex electoral system meant the ruling party could still triumph, sparking fears of potential unrest.

Early results showed Georgian Dream leading the ruling United National Movement by 57.3 to 37.95% after 7.62% of electoral precincts declared results in the proportional ballot that will decide just over half of parliamentary seats.

The showdown became increasingly bitter after a prison torture scandal prompted nationwide protests ahead of the vote in the Western-backed ex-Soviet state ruled by Saakashvili's party since the 2003 "Rose Revolution".

Ivanishvili declared victory immediately after several exit polls suggested late on Monday that his coalition was either ahead or running neck-and-neck with the ruling party in the proportional-vote section of the contest.

"We have won! The Georgian people have won!" he said in a televised speech.

61% turnout

But his coalition could still lose because almost half of parliamentary seats are decided on a first-past-the-post basis rather than the proportional representation system that provided the basis for the exit polls.

"We need to wait for results, but it seems clear that the Georgian Dream coalition has won the majority in the proportional vote but in single-mandate constituencies, the majority of votes has been secured by Georgia's [ruling] United National Movement," Saakashvili said in televised comments.

His party's spokesperson Chiora Taktakishvili was more explicit: "The United National Movement will have a solid majority in the new parliament," she said in a televised statement.

Turnout was 61%, the Central Election Commission said.

"The elections were held in an unprecedentedly competitive environment and the final result will accurately reflect the people's will," the commission's chief Zurab Kharatishvili said in a statement.

Thousands of jubilant opposition supporters celebrated in Tbilisi's central Freedom Square after the exit polls were announced, cheering and shouting: "Long live Georgia!"

Stripped of citizenship

Cars full of more euphoric supporters raced up and down the capital's main street, sounding their horns, whistling and waving flags.

"I was not expecting this. I'm sure everything will change for the best," one woman in the noisy crowd, Maya Asanidze, said.

Before the torture scandal sparked by revelations of the brutal beating and rape of male prison inmates erupted last month, most opinion polls gave the ruling party a significant lead, but the outrage seriously damaged its campaign.

Ivanishvili, who made his fortune through privatisation deals in Russia, threatened to call mass demonstrations should Western observers fail to declare the vote fair.

In a controversial move that troubled the West, the tycoon was stripped of his Georgian citizenship after announcing last year that he would challenge Saakashvili, and is currently a French citizen.

He symbolically did not vote on Monday despite constitutional amendments earlier this year that allowed him to do so.

'Litmus test'

The highly-polarised campaign in the small Caucasus republic of 4.5 million people was described by international OSCE election monitors as "confrontational and rough".

Georgia's main backers, the United States and European Union, called for a fair vote and emphasised that democratic progress was crucial for the Caucasus state's ambitions to join Western institutions such as Nato.

The polls were a "litmus test of the way democracy works in Georgia", Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday.

Saakashvili's party controlled 119 of the 150 seats in the outgoing parliament and has dominated Georgia since the charismatic lawyer rose to power after the "Rose Revolution" that ousted the country's former leader, ex-Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze.

The elections are crucial for Georgia's future because its parliament and prime minister will become stronger and the presidency's powers will dwindle under constitutional changes that come into force after Saakashvili's two-term rule ends in 2013.

Since post-Soviet independence, Georgia has gone through economic collapse, civil war and repeated outbreaks of political unrest that have seen two presidents deposed, as well as a five-day war with arch-foe Russia in 2008.

Read more on:    mikheil saakashvili  |  georgia

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


For the love of Corgis!

WATCH: 35 Corgi's to make your day! If they’re good enough for the Queen of England they’re good enough for us.



Can we communicate with our pets?
8 great natural remedies for your pet
Buying a puppy? Don’t get scammed!
WATCH: These funny animal videos will make you LOL!
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.