The republic of Georgia's leading political party, Georgian Dream, appeared to maintain its position as the strongest party in parliament after elections Saturday, according to the results of exit polls published by the Interfax news agency.
A poll commissioned by the TV station Rustavi 2, which is reputed to have links to the largest opposition party, the United National Movement, showed that Georgian Dream came out on top with almost 40 per cent of the votes. The same poll showed the United National Movement in a close second with about 33 per cent.
Another poll commissioned by several other TV stations showed Georgian Dream with a much higher lead, about 54 per cent of the votes, compared with about 20 per cent for the United National Movement.
A third political party, the self-defined populist Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, appeared to come in slightly above the 5-per-cent threshold for representation in parliament, local media outlet InterpressNews reported.
The elections, to decide all 150 members of the country's unicameral parliament, were relatively peaceful despite some serious violations, including a fistfight and several procedural violations, the anti-corruption organization Transparency International said.
The organization has filed a total of nine complaints regarding the elections, it said in a statement, adding that the fight occurred at a polling station in the western city of Zugdidi.
There was another a brawl of about 20 people at another polling station in the capital, Tblisi, and the Interior Ministry launched an investigation, InterpressNews reported.
Despite the contentious atmosphere, the elections were widely expected to be objective.
"I do expect it will be free and fair in keeping with the last two major elections in Georgia," former US ambassador Kenneth Yalowitz told dpa.
The race was expected to be close between Georgian Dream and the United National Movement.
Georgian Dream has capitalized on a comprehensive approach to regional ties, seeking integration with the European Union and at the same time maintaining a pragmatic relationship with the republic's former Soviet ruler, Moscow.
The United National Movement also wants closer ties with the EU, but has been much more critical of Russia. The party was founded by former president Mikheil Saakashvili, who fought a disastrous five-day war against Russia in 2008.
"I think Georgia Dream will win, but there are still many undecideds. The United National Movement will do well but come in second," said Yalowitz, who was ambassador to Georgia from 1998 to 2001 and is now a global policy fellow at the Wilson Center think tank based in Washington.
The run-up to the elections has been contentious. Last month two members of minor opposition parties got into a fistfight during a televised debate, and this week a lawmaker with the United National Movement survived a car-bombing in the nation's capital.
"In spite of the pre-election violence, I do expect the elections to largely comply with European norms and requirements," said Simon Saradzhyan, an international affairs analyst at Harvard's Belfer Center.
"The current Georgian authorities are determined to pursue further integration into the EU, and any significant deviation from standards would constitute a setback in that campaign," Saradzhyan told dpa.
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