(Vatican Radio)-- Exit polls and early results show the party of Georgia's pro-Western
president Mikhail Saakhasvili has suffered a major setback in Monday's parliamentary
elections, amid reports of voting irregularities and public dissatisfaction with poverty
and high unemployment of over 16 percent.
Shouting "for the victory" opposition
supporters celebrated in the capital Tbilisi.
The early returns made clear
that Georgian voters turned against Saakashvili and his United National Movement party
that has been in power for almost nine years.
Yet, Saakashvili warned the
opposition it is too early to celebrate. In televised remarks he acknowledged that
"the popular vote went to the opposition Georgian Dream coalition" led by billionaire
businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili.
But the president insisted that his party
would "retain its majority" in the 150-seat parliament since nearly half of the seats
are chosen in separate direct elections.
Worries over violence
main rival made clear however that he was satisfied with the results, but expressed
worries over reported violence and voter intimidation.
The 56-year-old Ivanishvili
said it was "a historic day" as "overall the Georgian people behaved well" and many
voted for his party. He told reporters and supporters that "those responsible for
violence and other irregularities should be punished".
The outcome of the
ballot will determine the future of 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.
Observers said that if 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 elections.
Whoever wins is under
international pressure to respect democracy at a time when the nation seeks closer
ties with the NATO military alliance. The opposition has also pledged to seek better
relations with Moscow. Georgia fought a brief war with Russia in 2008.
to the full report by regional correspondent Stefan Bos: