Georgia opposition mulls boycott of parliament

r28.jpgTBILISI (Reuters) – A leader of Georgia’s main opposition coalition said on Friday it was close to declaring a boycott of parliament in protest at an election it said was rigged to hand victory to President Mikheil Saakashvili’s party.

The vote in Georgia, an ex-Soviet state on an important transit route for oil and gas supplies from the Caspian Sea, was viewed as a test for Saakashvili’s democratic credentials as he seeks to take his country into NATO.

His allies in the United States and the European Union broadly welcomed the election, despite a report from Europe’s main vote monitoring body which said it only partially lived up to Georgia’s democratic commitments.

David Gamkrelidze, one of the leaders of the main opposition bloc which took a distant second place in Wednesday’s vote, said it did not recognize the result and was in talks on how to go about challenging it.

“Our main idea is not to participate in the parliament’s activity,” Gamkrelidze told Reuters in an interview.

“The logical decision must be that if you are not recognizing the results of these elections then you must not be a member of this parliament.”

Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili, who was meeting EU officials in Brussels on Friday, acknowledged the vote had not been perfect.

“It would have been impossible to do (things) in a really perfect way in terms of all European standards,” she said.

“But then the core importance we attach to this election was that everything had been done … by the government to ensure the elections would be free and fair,” she said.

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Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the distinction between the state and the ruling party was often blurred and that they had found cases of intimidation.

But they said that voters had been given the opportunity to express their political will.

Politicians in Brussels and Washington — which are backing Tbilisi in a dispute with its big neighbor Russia over two Georgian breakaway regions — gave a more upbeat assessment.

“We’ve seen some comments by the observers, including those from the OSCE, that indicate that the elections, while having some procedural issues with them, did proceed in a positive manner,” said State Department spokesman Tom Casey.

“We do think these elections are an improvement over the January presidential vote.”

With all the votes counted, Saakashvili’s United National Movement party was expected to have two-thirds of the seats in parliament, enough for a constitutional majority.

Previous elections have been followed by mass street protests but only a few thousand demonstrators turned out for a rally in Tbilisi late on Wednesday.

“The opposition have been literally knocked out by losing the election,” said Archil Gegeshidze, a political analyst at Georgia’s Foundation for Strategic and International studies. “They will need time to recover from that condition.”

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