2012-10-02 08:56:26

Georgia president suffers setback in elections

(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

His 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.

Listen to the full report by regional correspondent Stefan Bos: RealAudioMP3

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