Opposition makes gains in Georgia
on 02/10/2012 07:50:21
Mr Saakashvili acknowledged that the popular vote went to the opposition Georgian Dream coalition led by billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose supporters in the capital Tbilisi celebrated throughout the night.
But the president insisted that his party would retain its majority in parliament since nearly half of the seats are chosen in separate direct elections.
The outcome will determine the future of Mr Saakashvili's pro-Western government because of a constitutional reform that goes into effect next year giving the parliament greater powers at the expense of the presidency.
If Mr Saakashvili's party loses, it would be the first time in Georgia's post-Soviet history that a government has been changed not through revolution but at the ballot box.
Emotions were running high, and many feared that opposition supporters could turn angry if their victory proved short-lived.
Both sides, however, are under pressure to prove their commitment to democracy and have promised to respect the results if the election receives the approval of international observers.
The Central Election Commission said a hacker attack on its website had delayed the release of the results.
With 10% of precincts counted early today, Georgian Dream was leading in the popular vote for party list with 57% to 38% for Mr Saakashvili's United National Movement.
An exit poll conducted by Edison Research gave a clear edge to the opposition, while a second by GfK had them running even but with 30% of people surveyed refusing to say how they voted. These polls, however, only registered the vote based on party lists, which is used to elect 77 of parliament's 150 members.
The remaining 73 members are directly elected by majority vote in their constituencies, where the president's party is considered to have the advantage in the mountainous nation of 4.5 million people on the Black Sea.
Speaking on television shortly after the polls closed, Mr Saakashvili agreed that the opposition had won the party list vote, largely on the strength of its support in Tbilisi, the capital.
Still, he insisted his party was far ahead in the direct elections in individual districts and would retain its majority in parliament.
He called on both sides to work together and leave behind a campaign that was "tense, emotional and unfortunately often dirty".
Georgian Dream, however, said its exit poll showed it would win a majority of the parliament seats.
Tbilisi resounded late into the night with car horns and cheering as Georgian Dream supporters celebrated. Thousands gathered on Freedom Square, where they opened bottles of wine, sang songs and hugged one another. Cars drove through the city with young men hanging out of the windows and sunroofs, waving the party's blue flags.