The New York Times reports that Vladimir Putin has lost yet another big one:
As vote counts were still being tallied on Thursday, the ruling party in Georgia had a commanding lead in the Parliamentary elections held the previous day, cementing President Mikheil Saakashvili and his party’s place as the nation’s preeminent political force.
With two thirds of the polling precincts reporting, Mr. Saakashvili’s United National Movement party’s had more than 62 percent of the vote, Levan Tarkhnishvili, the head of the central election commission, said by telephone. The ruling party’s main opponent, the United Opposition bloc, had slightly more than 14 percent.
The opposition complained of irregularities and vowed to challenge the results.
But the wide margin suggested that Mr. Saakashvili — who has had his reputation as a democrat and a reformer tarnished by a police crackdown against unarmed protestors and an opposition television station last November — would maintain his unchallenged hold on the country’s politics and course.
Mr. Tarkhnishvili said he hoped that the full preliminary results would be released during the night. Both the opposition and the ruling party were awaiting the report on the conduct of the elections from the principal international election observation mission, from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Mr. Saakashvili, a lawyer educated at Columbia University in the United States, came to power after a peaceful revolution overthrew the government of former President Eduard Shevardnadze in 2003.
He has been staunchly pro-Western, seeking access to the European Union and NATO and sending troops to the American-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The country’s once stagnant economy has partially revived during his years in power.
But his opponents say that power has changed him, and that he has become arrogant and intolerant of dissent, and rules the country through a small circle of insiders, some of whom are corrupt.
Mr. Saakashvili’s Georgia, his critics say, lacks the balance of powers of a healthy democratic system.
Mr. Saakashvili has also pushed his small nation in the Caucasus onto the global stage, as tensions with neighboring Russia have surged during his presidency.
The tensions are related in part to his effort to pull Russian-supported breakaway regions in Georgia back under federal control. But they have also arisen because he has been a steady and vocal critic of both the Kremlin’s regional dominance and of the Soviet past.
The Parliamentary election had been framed by diplomats and analysts as an important test of whether Georgia’s ruling party and Mr. Saakashvili could restore their checkered reputations after the crackdown in the fall, and after Mr. Saakashvili’s victory in the snap presidential election earlier this year.
In that election, he received 52 percent of that vote — narrowly topping the required 50 percent amid allegations that his party had rigged the small margin of victory to avoid a potentially damaging run-off.
Giga Bokeria, a deputy foreign minister and one of Mr. Saakashvili’s closest confidants, said by telephone that the ruling party believed the Parliamentary election would be a step toward rebuilding international support.
“It was, as I hoped, better than the last election,” he said. “I think anybody who has more or less been closely following Georgia has been reassured.”