Early results show the ruling Georgian Dream party is leading in Georgia’s parliamentary polls, while allegations of vote rigging from the opposition have sparked fears of instability in the Caucasus nation.
With votes from almost 60 percent of precincts counted, the Central Election Commission (CEC), citing preliminary results, said that the governing party is set to win the elections with nearly 52.67 percent of the votes.
The opposition United National Movement (UNM) is lagging behind with only 24.85 percent of the votes, according to the commission.
Almost two million voters cast their ballots on Saturday and vote count is still underway. More than 20 political parties competed for 150 seats in the legislative chamber.
After voting close, the ruling party was quick to declare victory based on exit polls which gave it a strong lead over the UNM.
“I congratulate you with a big victory Georgia!” Prime Minister Georgy Kvirikashvili told jubilant supporters outside the party’s headquarters in the capital Tbilisi.
“According to all preliminary results, Georgian Dream is leading with a big advantage,” he added.
Deputy Prime Minister Kakha Kaladze also said that the party’s own data showed it had won around 59 percent of the vote.
However, Nika Melia, chief of the UNM’s campaign and an MP candidate, has accused the government of attempts to “steal elections.”
“Votes have been stolen from us. We will defend our votes,” Melia told a protest rally outside the CEC headquarters in Tbilisi.
Several other opposition parties -- such as Democratic Georgia, the Labour Party, and the Alliance of Patriots – have also blamed the government for massive vote rigging.
“Our party will not recognize these results. The elections were not free and fair,” said Nino Burjanadze, former parliament speaker and the leader of Democratic Georgia party, stressing, “We have evidence of electoral fraud in favor of the Georgian Dream, such as for example multiple voting.”
Georgian Dream, which came to power in 2012, is funded by tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, the country’s richest man. The opposition UNM was founded by former president, Mikheil Saakashvili.
The pre-election atmosphere in the nation of 3.7 million was marred by a car bomb that targeted Givi Targamadze, an opposition deputy in Tbilisi. Targamadze survived, but five passers-by were injured.
Last Sunday, two men were shot and wounded at an election rally in the town of Gori.
Disturbances also broke out on voting day itself in the village of Kizilajlo in south-east Georgia where dozens of opposition protesters tried to storm a polling station demanding the vote be canceled.
Unidentified assailants damaged the ballot box and attacked international and local observers at two polling stations in the village of Jikhashkari in western Georgia.