One of the world’s richest businessmen claimed to have inflicted a surprise narrow defeat on the incumbent pro-Western party in Monday’s elections in Georgia, a key ally of the United States neighboring Russia. Billionaire tycoon-turned-politician Bidzina Ivanishvili claimed his opposition political alliance Georgian Dream had staged a remarkable upset and was heading for control of the former Soviet republic’s parliament. However, incumbent President Mikheil Saakashvili insisted his United National Movement was on course to retain power.
Reports said thousands of Georgian Dream supporters had gathered in the capital, Tbilisi, as the polls closed at 8 p.m. local time (12 p.m. ET). AFP journalist Paul Gypteau wrote on Twitter that the capital’s Freedom Square was full with “cheering” people, while International Young Democrat Union observer Katrina Rice posted pictures showing crowds in the streets.
Rival claims could open the way to a post-election standoff. Any instability would worry the West because of the Caucasus country’s role as a conduit for Caspian Sea energy supplies to Europe and its pivotal location between Russia, Iran, Turkey and Central Asia.