. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgia Confirms Validity of Vote

ReutersGeorgian Interior Ministry troops guarding the headquarters of the Central Elections Commission in Tbilisi on Thursday.
TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgia's election commission on Thursday confirmed the validity of the country's parliamentary elections, putting the party supporting President Eduard Shevardnadze in first place and shrugging off the opposition's claim that the vote was rigged.

The pro-Shevardnadze For a New Georgia bloc came in first with 21.32 percent of the vote, while the Revival party, which sometimes has been critical of the government but sided with Shevardnadze in the post-election crisis, finished second with 18.84 percent, said Eka Melkadze, a spokeswoman for the Central Elections Commission.

Mikheil Saakashvili's opposition party, the National Movement, came in a narrow third with 18.08 percent. The Labor Party had 12 percent, while the Democrats who allied with Saakashvili's party got 8.8 percent and the New Right party had 7.4 percent. The opposition representatives in the commission refused to recognize the vote count.

Saakashvili and his allies have said that the vote was rigged in favor of Shevardnadze's supporters and pledged to try to block the convention of the new parliament. They demanded that Shevardnadze cancel the election results or step down, but the president has refused to give in and the official returns announced Thursday differed little from the preliminary vote count.

After the official returns were announced, Shevardnadze quickly signed a decree setting the parliament's first session Saturday.

"We won't join the new parliament and we will try to prevent it from holding its session," Saakashvili told reporters Thursday shortly before the official results were announced.

He then headed off to join his supporters in western Georgia, who began heading to Tbilisi.

The opposition appears to have made a major tactical mistake last weekend when they left a square in front of the parliament building after a week of protests that put Tbilisi on edge.

Supporters of the Revival party quickly moved into the square and pledged to stay there until the new parliament is convened.

"We will stay near the parliament building until the day when the new parliament holds its first session and, if necessary, longer," the head of Revival's Tbilisi branch, Tsotne Bakuria, said Thursday as about 500 Revival supporters maintained their vigil. "We won't allow extremists ... to break the constitutional order in the country."

Shevardnadze's foes appeared stunned by Revival's occupation of their main public arena and undecided about their future strategy.

All political forces in the dispute have vowed to avoid clashes, fearing a repeat of the kind of street fighting that accompanied the violent ouster of Shevardnadze's predecessor, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, in 1991 and 1992.