Ruling party in Georgia wins parliament vote, opposition protests

TBILISI (Reuters) - The ruling party in Georgia won parliamentary elections, firming its grip on power, near-complete results showed on Sunday, but the opposition rejected the figures and promised permanent protests.

People line up outside a polling station during a parliamentary election in Tbilisi, Georgia October 31, 2020. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

With around 99% of the votes in, data from the Central Election Commission (CEC) gave the ruling Georgian Dream party 48.07% of the vote and the largest opposition party United National Movement (UNM) 27.12%.

Several other opposition parties managed to clear the 1% threshold for membership in parliament.

The opposition said the elections were rigged and promised to hold protests until a new election was called.

“We don’t recognise the election results and demand new election to be held,” Nika Melia, one of the UNM leaders, told the rally, where thousands of people gathered outside the parliament building.

“The fight starts today and we will fight till the very end,” David Bakradze, one of the European Georgia party leaders, said.

The opposition plans to hold another protest in a week and does not rule out boycotting new parliament.

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The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said on Sunday that the election had been competitive and fundamental freedoms had generally been respected.

However, the OSCE flagged allegations of pressure on voters and a blurring of the line between the ruling party and the state, which it said “reduced public confidence in some aspects of the election process.”

The ruling party - founded by Georgia’s richest man, Bidzina Ivanishvili - said it had received enough votes to form a single-party government in the South Caucasus country.

“There is no doubt that we’ve won,” Irakli Kobakhidze, the party’s executive secretary, told reporters.

Kobakhidze said Georgian Dream candidates won in a majority of the 30 individual races, although in some cases a second round would be needed as no candidate received more than 50% of the vote. Candidates elected in individual races will fill 30 seats in 150-seat parliament, with party lists used for the remaining 120 seats.

An alliance of more than 30 opposition parties, led by the UNM, the largest and strongest opposition force, announced on Friday that they would not go into coalition with the ruling party after the election.

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The opposition accused the ruling party and its supporters of vote-buying and making threats against voters and local observers as well as violations during the vote counting process.

Georgian Dream leaders denied the accusations and acknowledged only some technical irregularities in voting.

The country’s economy has been hit hard by the spread of the coronavirus and is forecast by the government to contract by 4% in 2020.

The government’s popularity has waned, and opponents accuse it of mishandling the economy, selective justice, a weak foreign policy and stamping on dissent with the violent dispersal of protests.

Critics say Ivanishvili, who does not hold a government post, runs the country of 3.7 million people from behind the scenes, an accusation denied by Georgian Dream, which has governed for two consecutive terms.

A fifth of Georgian territory is controlled by pro-Russian separatists following a short war with Russia in 2008.

Both the government and the opposition would like to see Georgia join the European Union and NATO, but such moves would be strongly resisted by Moscow. Georgian Dream also favours closer ties with Russia.

Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Toby Chopra and Lisa Shumaker