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Georgia's Saakashvili claims party victory in key elections

Georgia's Saakashvili claims party victory in key elections

Opposition leaders alleged Friday that Georgia's local and regional elections were riddled with fraud, after President Mikhail Saakashvili claimed victory for his party in the continuing vote count.
International monitors said, however, that the balloting was conducted "with general respect for fundamental freedoms."
The vote was seen as an important test of the pro-Western government's popularity at a time when this poor ex-Soviet nation faces a worsening confrontation with neighboring Russia.
"We got a minimum of 70 percent across Georgia," Saakashvili told supporters at his party's headquarters late Thursday.
Saakashvili also cited exit polls reported by Georgian television, which said his United National Movement party was ahead with around 56 percent of the vote, followed by the joint opposition Republican-Conservative bloc with 8.1 percent. The exit poll methodology could not be verified.
The Central Election Commission said late Friday that preliminary results showed the United National Movement won 66.4 percent of the vote in the capital, Tbilisi, where about 890,000 of Georgia's 3.2 million registered voters live.
Labor Party head Shalva Natelashvili, who hopes to unseat Saakashvili ally Gigi Ugulava from the post of Tbilisi mayor, said that the opposition had been subjected to tremendous pressure during the campaign before Thursday's local elections.
"Those who didn't want to vote for Saakashvili were branded agents of another state," he said.
"These elections failed, by European and international standards, and we will appeal to international courts to declare them false and illegitimate," he said.
But the joint mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe offered a relatively positive assessment _ though it noted that "the blurred distinction between the authorities and the governing party reinforced the advantage of the incumbents." Monitors pointed to "highly visible social aid programs" used by the ruling party, which paid out pension bonuses and provided temporary jobs.
Nearly three years after the Rose Revolution protests propelled him to power, the U.S.-educated Saakashvili has seen his popularity plunge with Georgians increasingly disenchanted at the weak economy and widespread poverty
The Central Election Commission had been expected to announce preliminary results Friday morning, but it said it would only be releasing counts for certain districts and a fuller picture might not emerge for three days. It said provisional turnout was 40 percent.
Conservative Party leader Koba Davitashvili accused the government of dragging out the vote count in an effort to fix the results.
"Not even an hour passed after the end of elections that President Saakashvili said that his party had done better than in the past elections and got a minimum of 70 percent of the vote and now the electoral commission is trying to reach that figure," he said.
Saakashvili rejected charges of vote-rigging.
"We conducted democratic elections.... And I want to say that we conducted clean elections despite our opponents' pouring dirt on us," he said.
Russia's chilly relations with Georgia have worsened steadily since Saakashvili came to power, vowing to take the country out of Russia's orbit, rein in breakaway provinces and join NATO. Georgia accuses Russia of backing the separatists, which Russia denies.
Following Georgia's arrest of four Russian military officers on spying charges, Moscow this week suspended air, sea, road, rail and postal links with its southern neighbor, paralyzing trade with economically dependent Georgia. Moscow has also cracked down on Georgian migrants and businesses in Russia.
Up to a million Georgians live in Russia, according to some estimates, and send home hundreds of millions of dollars (euros) every year to their families.
In spite of the crisis, many Georgians could have been thinking more about bread-and-butter issues when they cast their votes for more than 1,700 members of municipal and regional councils that will in turn elect mayors and administration heads. The highest regional posts _ envoys _ are appointed by the president.


Updated : 2021-04-23 11:21 GMT+08:00