Exit polls in Georgia have given an early edge to the opposition coalition in Monday’s parliamentary vote, but the lead may not translate into a victory.
A state television exit poll says pro-Russian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s group “Georgian Dream” leads with 35-percent of the vote over President Mikheil Saakashvili’s ruling United National Movement’s 30 percent. But since nearly half of the remaining 150 seats are to be determined by majority vote in their constituencies — where the president’s party is considered a favorite — Mr. Saakashvili’s coalition could keep its majority in the parliament.
This election is crucial to the future of the country of 4.5 million because under its new constitution, the prime minister holds many of the powers that had been granted to the president. Next year, parliament will name a new prime minister after Mr. Saakashvili’s second and final presidential term ends.
Ivanishvili’s backers accuse the president of being a dictator. They blame him for the brief but disastrous 2008 war with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Mr. Saakashvili’s campaign also was hurt last week when videos surfaced of prison guards beating and raping inmates.
Ahead of the election, President Saakashvili said a victory for Georgian Dream and Ivanishvili as prime minister would shift Georgia away from the West and put it back under Moscow’s influence – a charge Ivanishvili denies.
More than 51,000 international election monitors and observers kept an eye on Monday’s vote.
(Illustration: Billy Alexander/sxc.hu)