02.10.2012 / 12:04

Opposition Ahead in Georgian Elections 22

Mikheil Saakashvili came to polling station with his wife and son.

Votes are being counted in Georgia's parliamentary elections, with first preliminary results showing the opposition Georgian Dream coalition of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili ahead of the United National Movement (UNM) party of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The Central Election Commission said that with ballots from about 20 percent of polling stations counted under the party-list system, Georgian Dream had 54 percent and UNM had 41 percent.

Seventy-seven members of parliament are being elected based on party lists. The remaining 73 members are being elected directly in voting districts.

Earlier, Saakashvili admitted the opposition had won the party vote, but he said his party was far ahead in the direct elections.

Saakashvili came to power in the bloodless Rose Revolution of 2003 and his presidential mandate ends in 2013.

He has steered Georgia away from Russia and toward the West.

As he voted, Saakashvili said much was at stake in the election.

Lots of things are being decided right now in our country for the region, for development, for the future not only of this nation but of what happens to the European dream in this part of the world, what happens to the idea of democracy in this part of the world, what happens to the idea of reforms in this part of the world, Saakashvili said.

Litmus Test

Saakashvili had said Ivanishvili would move Georgia away from the West and bring it back into Moscow's orbit.

Ivanishvili denied this. The billionaire said he would pursue Georgia's strategic goals of joining NATO and the European Union, as well as normalizing relations with Russia.

Those ties were damaged in 2008 when the two countries fought a brief war over two Georgian breakaway regions.

Ivanishvili said, if elected, that his side would work for the benefit of the people.

We are the team that you can trust. We are the team that will take the power into our hands and use it for the benefit of the people. We should win in elections, Ivanishvili said.

The West is watching the vote closely.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels that the election was a litmus test of the way democracy works in Georgia.

The U.S. ambassador to Georgia, Richard Norland, had called for a peaceful election.

The opposition complained of harassment in the lead-up to the vote.

Amnesty International condemned human rights abuses during election campaigning.

While the Georgian Dream coalition has by and large been able to get its message across to Georgian voters, many of its supporters have been fined, fired, harassed, or detained for expressing their political views, said Natalia Nozadze, Amnesty Internationals expert on Georgia.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe described the election campaign as confrontational and rough.

The run-up to the October 1 vote had been colored by mass protests against police brutality and torture in Georgia's prison system.

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