Sat, May 24, 2008 - Page 6 News List

President's party wins parliamentary elections in Georgia

AFP , TBILISI

Georgian President Mikheil's Saakashvili party has won parliamentary polls with 59.5 percent of the vote, the Central Election Commission said yesterday.

The main opposition bloc, the United Opposition Council, came second with 17.7 percent, commission spokesman Zurab Kachkachishvili said.

Georgia’s opposition yesterday threatened protests and a parliamentary boycott over this week’s elections, as European states backing Saakashvili rallied to his side.

But the main opposition bloc stepped up criticism of what it says was a rigged poll.

Some opposition figures have called for a rally on Monday, raising fears of renewed political instability.

“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 similar threats by other opposition leaders.

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

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

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

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

“We are actually quite proud that we are judged by western European standards and not post-Soviet standards,” Deputy Interior Minister Ekaterine Zguladze said.

Supporters in Europe also rallied behind Saakashvili, although the US had yet to comment, as had major states such as Germany.

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country holds the EU presidency, said the vote was “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.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus said: “Georgia has passed the democracy exam.”

Georgia seeks Western support in its stand-off with Russia and the vote was seen as a test of its ability to meet Western standards.

Saakashvili’s party was set to win a strong majority both of the 75 parliamentary seats assigned under a party list system and the 75 assigned to single mandate constituencies.

He has been praised as a democratic reformer since coming to power in 2004, but was criticized last November after sending riot police to suppress an opposition protest, shutting a critical TV station and briefly imposing emergency rule.

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