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Georgia elections a triumph for Saakashvili

The first Georgia elections since the country's defeat in its brief war with Russia in 2008 were a triumph for President Mikhael Saakashvili. His party rolled to victory in major cities, and observers said the poll was reasonably fair.

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"Nevertheless, the low level of public confidence in the election process persisted," it added. "Further efforts in resolutely tackling recurring misconduct are required in order to consolidate the progress achieved and enhance public trust before the next national elections."

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Some analysts said opposition leaders were damaged by pervasive suggestions that they might be in the pay of the Kremlin, which has made no secret of its distaste for Saakashvili.

After prominent opposition politician Nino Burzhanadze visited Moscow in March to explore terms for better relations, a government-connected Georgian TV station ran a fake documentary that appeared to tar Ms. Burzhanadze as being in the service of Moscow.

"The opposition was intimidated to some extent, and thrown onto the defensive by efforts to label them as 'Russian agents,' " says Mr. Khutsishvili. "They had to worry about disclosing every single source of funding, and were constantly forced to explain themselves."

Mr. Alasania, perhaps the opposition's most promising leader, conceded his defeat in Tbilisi and told his supporters to begin preparing for the next cycle of parliamentary and presidential polls, due in about two years.

"We have been defined by voters as one of the key political force," Alasania said. "With this support we continue our struggle to contribute democratic development of our country, to make electoral system more transparent.... With the parliamentary elections [in 2012], we face the major test ahead of us."

In contrast to last year, when oppositionists held months of rolling street demonstrations in a vain attempt to unseat Saakashvili, no one appears likely to protest now.

"The elections were democratic, and not a single party here – even the most radical – is going to accuse the authorities of any major manipulations," says Irine Sarishvili-Chanturia, a former deputy prime minister who is now a moderate opposition figure. "But the democratic character of the elections themselves doesn't mean we have no problems with our democracy. The opposition is divided, and the authorities made many false promises," she says.

"We need to look forward, and renew our commitment to make things better."

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