Georgians vote in crucial parliamentary polls

Polls suggest the ruling Georgian Dream party, funded by the country's richest man, is likely to win. But they also show strong support for the opposition United National Movement (UNM), and that many voters are undecided.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

People vote during the parliamentary election in Tbilisi, Georgia, October 8, 2016.

Voting began in Georgia on Saturday in bitterly contested elections that have sparked fears of political instability in the Caucasus nation.

Tensions have risen ahead of the vote in the ex-Soviet republic, which fought a brief war with Russia in 2008 and seeks EU and NATO membership, after recent a car bombing and shooting at a rally.

Both the government and the opposition would like to see Georgia join the European Union and NATO, but such a move would be strongly resisted by Russia.


David Bakradze (C), leader of the largest opposition party, United National Movement, casts a ballot while accompanied by his daughters during parliamentary elections in Tbilisi, Georgia, October 8, 2016. (Reuters)

Polls suggest the ruling Georgian Dream party, funded by the country's richest man, is likely to win. But they also show strong support for the opposition United National Movement (UNM) and that many voters are undecided.

"The two biggest parties will definitely make it into parliament, but other parties also have some chances and there will be some room for coalition building," said Koba Turmanidze, director of the Tbilisi-based Caucasus Research Resource Centre.

The pro-Western Free Democrats and the pro-Russian Alliance of Patriots may be among those who clear the 5 percent threshold needed to get into the 150-seat parliament, analysts say.

Georgian Dream was founded by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia. It came to power in 2012, ending the nine-year rule of former President Mikheil Saakashvili's UNM.

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili has promised free and fair polls, which "will mark a truly important step to the future of democratic Georgia."


Prime minister and leader of ruling Georgian Dream party Giorgi Kvirikashvili (C), accompanied by his family members, casts his ballot during the parliamentary elections in Tbilisi, Georgia, October 8, 2016. (Reuters)

But some observers noted that electoral legislation and huge financing give an unfair advantage to the ruling party – something that may decide the vote's outcome.

"The electoral environment clearly serves a ruling party's interests in Georgia," one of the leaders of the opposition Republican Party, Levan Berdzenishvili, told AFP.  

"This election is about saving the country from the devastating rule of the Georgian Dream which proved to be a nightmare," one voter, pensioner Otar Vasadze, told AFP at a polling station in Tbilisi.

Another voter, schoolteacher Dali Mgeladze, said, "There is no better choice, I vote for the Georgian Dream."

Voting, which started at 8am (0400 GMT) and ends at 8pm (1600 GMT), is being monitored by international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Source: 
TRTWorld and agencies