Georgia ruling party scores win in disputed polls

Tbilisi (AFP) - Georgia's ruling party has scored a landslide win in disputed parliamentary polls, official results showed on Monday, as the main opposition cried fraud.

"Georgian Dream won in all but two of 50 single-mandate constituencies" where a second round of voting was held on Sunday, central election commission spokeswoman Ketevan Dangadze told AFP.

"Independent candidates have won in two constituencies," she added.

In the first round, held on October 8, Georgian Dream won just under 49 percent of the vote in a proportional ballot, while the opposition United National Movement (UNM) came second with just over 27 percent.

For the first time in Georgia's post-Soviet history, the first round also saw a small anti-Western party, the Alliance of Patriots, clearing the five-percent threshold needed to enter parliament.

Georgia's Western allies are watching closely to see if the strategically located nation -- praised as a rare beacon of democracy in the former Soviet region -- can cement gains after its first transfer of power at the ballot box four years ago.

According to the results, Georgian Dream will now take 115 seats, UNM 27 seats, and Alliance of Patriots six seats in the 150-seat unicameral legislature.

The super-majority allows Georgian Dream to form a new cabinet and pass constitutional amendments. Not all has been smooth sailing for Georgian Dream, however.

After both the first round ballot and Sunday's runoffs, opposition parties cried foul, accusing the government of massive vote rigging -- a claim flatly rejected by the authorities.

"The elections were held amid all-out falsifications," Georgia's exiled former president and UNM's founder Mikheil Saakashvili was quoted as saying by Georgian television.

But Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili hailed "free, fair, and transparent elections" as "yet another step forward for Georgian democracy."

"I congratulate everyone on the successful passing of this important democratic test," he said in a statement.

- Violence against candidates -

International observers from the OSCE, the European Parliament, and the Council of Europe said in a joint statement that the vote had been "competitive and administered in a manner that respected the rights of candidates and voters" -- while also noting isolated irregularities and flaws in Georgia's electoral legislation.

Politics in Georgia is dominated by Saakashvili and billionaire ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili who leads Georgian Dream from behind the scenes.

Tensions rose ahead of the vote in the republic -- which fought a brief war with Russia in 2008 and is seeking EU and NATO membership -- after several violent attacks against candidates.

Earlier this month, a UNM lawmaker's car exploded in central Tbilisi, injuring four passers-by and prompting the party to accuse the authorities of "creating a climate of hatred in which opposition politicians are being attacked."

A few days earlier, two men were injured when unknown assailants fired shots during a campaign rally of an independent candidate in the central city of Gori.

The poisonous atmosphere around the polarised vote follows years of what the opposition views as political witch-hunts and retribution against Saakashvili and his team.

Saakashvili, a charismatic reformer who took over in the Rose Revolution of 2003, was forced out of the country in 2013 after prosecutors issued an arrest warrant alleging abuse of power.

He is now a regional governor in pro-Western Ukraine.

The crackdown on his allies has prompted concerns among Georgia's Western allies that democracy in the country could backslide.