The ruling Georgian Dream party won Georgia's parliamentary polls, early results showed today, but accusations of vote rigging from the opposition sparked fears of political instability in the Caucasus nation.
Georgia's Western allies are watching closely to see if the strategic nation — praised as a rare example of democracy in the former Soviet region — can cement gains after its first transfer of power at the ballot box four years ago.
With votes from more than 67 per cent of precincts counted, the central election commission said Georgian Dream was leading main opposition force the United National Movement (UNM) by 49.76 per cent to 26.69 per cent.
After voting closed yesterday the Georgian Dream was quick to declare victory based on exit polls which gave it a strong lead over the UNM.
But the UNM accused the government of attempts to "steal elections" and held a protest rally outside the central election commission.
"Votes have been stolen from us. We will defend our votes," Nika Melia, chief of UNM's campaign and an MP candidate, told protesters.
Several opposition parties — such as Democratic Georgia, the Labour Party, and the Alliance of Patriots — also cried foul, accusing the government of massive vote rigging.
"Our party will not recognise these results. The elections were not free and fair," former parliament speaker and the leader of Democratic Georgia party, Nino Burjanadze, told AFP.
"We have evidence of electoral fraud in favour of the Georgian Dream, such as multiple voting," she added.
Georgian Dream, led behind the scenes by billionaire ex-premier Bidzina Ivanishvili, and the UNM founded by exiled former president Mikheil Saakashvili, had been neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of the election.
Western monitors with the OSCE are to speak about the polls later today.
The leader of the State for People party, acclaimed opera singer Paata Burchuladze, said the authorities have "massively falsified elections."
The Labour Party leader Shalva Natelashvili told AFP Ivanishvili was "personally responsible for unprecedented vote rigging, discrimination and repressions of opponents."
The voting percentages that have so far been released are for a proportional ballot that will decide 77 of the 150 seats in the legislature.