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Georgia: Ruling Party Named Winner Of Parliamentary Elections


http://gdb.rferl.org/D2A1C178-14AB-41B0-91B6-F15F877E7950_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/D2A1C178-14AB-41B0-91B6-F15F877E7950_mw800_mh600.jpg President Mikheil Saakashvili with his wife Sandra Roelofs voting in Tbilisi (InterPressNews) Whatever the result announced by the Central Election Commission, members of Georgia's opposition aren't buying it.

The commission officially announced early on May 23 that President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement has won Georgia's parliamentary elections with 59.37 percent of the vote. The United Opposition bloc finished a distant second, with 17.59 percent.

The figures, based on returns from more than 90 percent of precincts, indicated that two other parties passed the 5 percent hurdle for representation in the 150-seat parliament. The Christian Democratic Movement, which broke from the United Opposition bloc in February to contest the elections on their own, had 8.48 percent of the vote. In fourth place was the Labor Party, with 7.53 percent.

But of the 12 parties and blocs that contested the election, many are refusing to concede defeat, and some in the opposition are vowing to stage protests and a parliamentary boycott.

Speaking in Tbilisi on May 22, leading United Opposition member Koba Davitashvili said he would wait until meeting with the bloc's council to formulate a course of action, but that numerous flaws accompanied the May 21 poll.

"There were gross violations at virtually every polling station -- carousel voting, casting of ballots while using other people's identity documents," Davitashvili said "We have observed several instances when people were voting with forged IDs. There was voter intimidation by police forces."

David Gamkrelidze of the New Rightists party, which failed to gain parliamentary seats, said the party would refuse to recognize the results. The elections, he said in televised remarks, "don't reflect the people's choice and the people's will."

Monitors Point To Flaws, Improvements

Such assessments were not isolated to those on the losing end of the election, however.

While generally assessing the voting positively, the International Election Monitoring Mission in its preliminary report issued on May 22 noted significant shortcomings in the vote-counting and tabulation process.

Specifically, the report said that while "parties were able to campaign actively" throughout the country, "there were numerous allegations of intimidation, some of which could be verified."

And while stating that the election administration worked in a transparent manner, the preliminary assessment said that "election commissions and courts generally did not give due consideration to complaints."

"The distinction between the state and a political party was frequently blurred," Boris Frlec, the head of the long-term election observation mission of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said at a news conference in Tbilisi on May 22. "For example, governmental social programs, such as the distribution of fuel vouchers in rural areas, were at times combined with campaign activities for the United National Movement, although less than previously."

Joao Soares, special coordinator of the OSCE short-term observers and head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation, admitted that "these elections were not perfect."

However, he added, "Since I was here in January for the presidential election, concrete and substantial progress has been made."

Those elections, in which Saakashvili won reelection in the first round by a slim margin, were roundly criticized. As a result of the fallout, Saakashvili pledged to run a more open government, work more closely with the opposition, and pay greater attention to citizens' needs.

Vote Welcomed By West

Georgia-watchers were keeping a close eye on reactions to these elections to see if the president would keep his promises. And the stakes were high, especially after NATO earlier said that the success of the polls would play a key part in any positive decision when the alliance in December again considers the issue of handing Georgia a Membership Action Plan toward eventual membership.

It appears that, despite the many negatives, most Western states are viewing the election in a positive light, overall.

The current holder of the EU Presidency, Slovenia, described the elections as "encouraging," while EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said they showed "substantial progress."

And U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said a news briefing in Washington on May 22: "We do think these elections are an improvement over the January presidential vote. And we'll certainly look forward to seeing the results and look forward to working with the new government once formed."

And despite the criticisms, some in the Georgian government found a silver lining.

"We are actually quite proud that we are judged by Western European standards and not post-Soviet standards," Deputy Interior Minister Ekaterine Zguladze told AFP.

RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report
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