Ruling party in ex-Soviet Georgia leads in parliament vote, opposition rallies

People line up outside a polling station during a parliamentary election in Tbilisi, Georgia

Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream party leads in a parliamentary election in the former Soviet republic on Saturday, preliminary results showed, but the opposition rejected the results and said it planned to protest.

With almost 44% of the votes in, data from the Central Election Commission’s (CEC) gave the ruling Georgian Dream party 50.58% of the vote and the largest opposition party United National Movement (UNM) 24.92%.

According to preliminary results, several other opposition parties managed to clear the 1% threshold for parliament membership.

The opposition said preliminary results did not correspond with reality.

“We won’t accept this result and call on people to come to Rustaveli avenue (in the capital Tbilisi) at 4 p.m.” (0200 GMT) on Sunday, Nika Melia, one of the UNM leaders, told reporters after consultations with other opposition leaders.

International observers planned to hold a news conference an hour before the planned protest.

Police units were placed in the area around the election commission’s building.

The ruling party declared victory soon after polls closed across the South Caucasus country after four exit polls put it first in a tight race.

It was not clear whether the governing party – founded by Georgia’s richest man, Bidzina Ivanishvili – would secure the votes needed to form a single-party government.

The opposition claimed it received enough votes in total to form a coalition.

More than 30 opposition parties, led by the UNM, the largest and strongest opposition force, announced that they would not go into coalition with the ruling party after the election.

The country’s economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus spread 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.

Pro-Russian separatists control a fifth of Georgian territory 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 Moscow’s moves would be strongly resisted. Georgian Dream also favors closer ties with Russia.

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