The governing Georgian Dream party led Georgia’s parliamentary election with a vote share of 54.7 percent, the Central Election Commission said on Saturday, citing results from nearly a third of polling stations.
The opposition, however, said it would not accept those results.
Tamar Zhvania, the head of the CEC, told reporters that the vote count from 28 percent of polling stations showed the Georgian Dream in the lead while the largest opposition party United National Movement (UNM) got 23.6 percent of the vote.
The preliminary results did not include tallies from major districts.
The governing party – founded by Georgia’s richest man, Bidzina Ivanishvili – had declared victory soon after polls closed across the South Caucasus country on Saturday and four exit polls put it in first place in a tight race.
“Georgia has made me a worthy choice, and that Georgian Dream founded by me is a worthy dream. Georgian voters, who would not make the wrong choice today, expressed support for worthy people,” Ivanishvili told a crowd of supporters in the capital, Tiblisi.
But it was not clear whether the governing party would secure the votes needed to form a single-party government.
The opposition said the results did not correspond with reality.
“This is not a real picture and these results don’t reflect the will of Georgian people,” said David Kirtadze, a member of UNM, who tried to interrupt the CEC head when she was announcing preliminary results. He was forced by guards to leave the conference hall.
Opposition leaders said they would not accept the vote count and were holding consultations on further steps.
“We are considering all possible scenarios, we won’t accept these results,” Sergi Kapanadze, an opposition leader from the European Georgia party, told reporters.
The opposition claimed it received enough votes in total to form a coalition.
More than 30 opposition parties, led by the UNM, the largest and strongest opposition force, had announced on Friday that they would not go into coalition with the governing party after the election.
Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, reporting from Tiblisi, said most voters were able to cast their ballots “freely and in safety”, though there were some violent scenes between supporters of rival parties on Saturday.
He added: “Georgia is likely to have a more diverse parliament, but the politicians will now have to focus on immediate challenges – soaring COVID infections and a bleak outlook for the economy.”
The country’s economy has been hit hard by the spread of the coronavirus and is forecast by the government to contract by 4 percent in 2020.
The government’s popularity has waned, and opponents accuse it of mishandling the economy, selective justice, a weak foreign policy and stamping on dissent with the violent dispersal of protests.
Critics said Ivanishvili, who does not hold a government post, runs the South Caucasus country of 3.7 million people from behind the scenes, an accusation denied by Georgian Dream, which has governed for two consecutive terms.
A fifth of Georgian territory is controlled by pro-Russian separatists following a short war with Russia in 2008.
Both the government and the opposition would like to see Georgia join the European Union and NATO, but such moves would be strongly resisted by Moscow. Georgian Dream also favours closer ties with Russia.