October 30, 2016
TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — The governing party in the former Soviet republic of Georgia aimed to win a constitutional majority of parliament seats in the second round of national voting Sunday, which was marked by low turnout.
Only 37.5 percent of eligible voters took part in the runoffs, which will choose a third of the country’s parliament members, the central elections commission said. It also said no complaints of major violations were reported.
In voting three weeks ago, the Georgian Dream party took 67 of the parliament’s 150 seats. But 50 seats needed to undergo Sunday’s runoff vote because no candidate received a majority. Georgian Dream candidates polled the largest support in most of those races in the first round, but the likelihood of its winning the 46 seats needed for a three-quarters constitutional majority are unclear. In most districts, substantial first-round vote shares went to independents or candidates from a score of small parties.
Both Georgian Dream and main opponent the United National Movement are pro-West, seeking better relations and possible eventual membership in NATO and the European Union. But Georgian Dream has tried to balance these aspirations with developing better relations with Russia.
Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said Sunday that Georgia will continue to pursue “the principle of integration with the EU and NATO, at the same time reducing tensions with Russia.” Russia and Georgia fought a short war in 2008 that ended with Georgia losing all control of two Russia-friendly separatist regions. Former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili was a vehement critic of Russia and detested by the Kremlin.
Although Saakashvili was stripped of his citizenship after becoming governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region, he is still a key figure in the opposition UNM, which denounces the governing party as the creation of a Russian oligarch.
Georgian Dream was started by tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia. He later became prime minister, but even after stepping down from the post he is still seen as the party’s dominant influence.
If Georgian Dream gets the three-quarters majority in parliament that would allow it to change the constitution, an early move is likely to be an amendment to make the presidency a position appointed by parliament.
“We already know what (Ivanishvili) wants to do — he wants to take away our right to elect the president directly,” said Giga Boleria, foreign affairs secretary for UNM. Georgian Dream executive secretary Irakli Kobakhidze justifies the proposed change as “the opportunity to improve the constitution to strengthen the parliament as the main constitutional body in the country and to secure the principle of separation of powers.”
Aside from the 27 seats won by UNM in the first round, only one other political bloc entered the new parliament — the Russia-tolerant Alliance of Patriots, with six seats.