Thousands rally in ex-Soviet Georgia demanding snap polls

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Thousands of opposition supporters rallied Sunday in ex-Soviet Georgia to demand a snap vote after the opposition accused the ruling party of rigging tightly contested parliamentary elections.

The main thoroughfare of the capital Tbilisi turned into a sea of Georgia’s red-and-white five-cross flags as protesters gathered outside parliament, many wearing masks against the coronavirus.

The ruling Georgian Dream party led by billionaire ex-prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili — which won the October 31 polls with a two-percent margin — has flatly denied the accusations of electoral fraud.

But all of Georgia’s opposition parties have refused to enter the new parliament, sparking fears of another political crisis in the Black Sea nation where elections are often followed by accusations of fraud and mass demonstrations.

In an unprecedented show of unity before the vote, the country’s main opposition force, exiled former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM), agreed with smaller opposition groups to form a coalition government if elected.

“We demand the replacement of the totally discredited electoral administration and the holding of a fresh vote,” one of the UNM’s leaders, Salome Samadashvili, told AFP.

“This would allow for maintaining stability in the country,” she said, adding that “Georgian Dream has failed to receive a democratic mandate to remain in power.”

Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia of Georgian Dream has said the elections marked “another important milestone in Georgia’s democratic development” and criticised the opposition for staging mass rallies amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Gakharia, who has tested positive for the virus, has been in self-isolation for a week and announced a nightime curfew starting Monday.

Georgia has seen a rapid daily increase in new virus cases after it lifted a lockdown in September aimed at containing the spread of the disease.

The electoral commission has yet to formalise early results that showed Georgian Dream had won 48 percent of the proportional vote, against 46 percent for opposition parties.

The proportional vote decides 120 of the 150 seats in the legislature.

With another 30 seats to be assigned in single-mandate constituencies requiring up to two rounds of voting, the final makeup of the new parliament may only become clear in late November.

France 24

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