The ruling Georgian Dream party has topped Georgia's legislative polls, official early results show, but accusations of vote rigging from the opposition have sparked fears of political instability in the Caucasus nation.
With votes from over 54 percent of precincts counted by Sunday, the central election commission said Georgian Dream was leading the main opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), by 50.44 percent to 26.67 percent.
The figures are for a proportional ballot that will decide 77 of the 150 seats in the legislature.
After voting closed on Saturday, the Georgian Dream was quick to declare victory based on exit polls which gave it a strong lead over the UNM.
But the UNM accused the government of attempts to "steal elections" and held a protest rally outside the central election commission.
"Votes have been stolen from us. We will defend our votes," Nika Melia, chief of UNM's campaign and an MP candidate, told protesters, claiming that the electoral victory belonged to his party.
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Several opposition parties, including the Labour Party, Alliance of Patriots, and Democratic Georgia, cried foul, accusing the incumbent government of massive vote rigging.
The voting percentages that have been released so far may not necessarily be reflected in parliamentary seats because almost half will be determined on a first-past-the-post basis rather than by the proportional representation system.
Due to the country's complex election rules, the final makeup of the 150-seat parliament may only become clear by late November.
Al Jazeera's Robin Forestier-Walker, reporting from the capital Tbilisi, said that "the UNM, which looks like it's coming in second [behind Georgian Dream], claims that the margin of difference between the two [parties] is substantially smaller. They are saying that they will contest the results based on their own polls.
"There is a concern that this election will not pass by smoothly, the way it had four years ago," our correspondent said, adding that the UNM was expected to hold a rally later on Sunday at the election commission offices.
"We're also expecting to hear from international election monitors and they will be giving their verdict on how the election went. There is a lot to indicate that a lot of political parties, particularly those that did not get past the five percent threshold, will be frustrated and will be raising the issues [of procedural violations] later on."
Georgian Dream - led from behind the scenes by billionaire ex-prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili - and the UNM - founded by exiled former president Mikheil Saakashvili - had been neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of the election.
Tensions rose ahead of the vote in the ex-Soviet republic after a car bombing and shooting incident at a rally.
Georgia's Western allies are watching closely to see if the strategic nation can cement gains after its first transfer of power at the ballot box four years ago.
"This was a truly free and fair election, which firmly cements Georgia's democracy," Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said after the vote ended, but observers reported instances of procedural violations.
Election monitors and opposition politicians noted that Georgia's electoral environment and financing give an unfair advantage to the ruling party, which could potentially affect the vote's outcome.
Local observers also reported about several violations during the vote count process.
In one case, a group of unidentified attackers threw stones and smashed windows at two polling stations in the village of Jikhashkari in western Georgia, Reuters news agency cited local observers as saying.
They also damaged the ballot box and attacked international and local observers at the spot, Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA) said in a statement.
'Climate of hatred'
The country's politics remain dominated by Saakashvili and Ivanishvili, even though neither holds an official position.
The campaign was marred by Wednesday's attempted murder of a leading UNM politician whose car exploded in central Tbilisi, injuring four passers-by.
The bombing prompted UNM to accuse authorities of "creating a climate of hatred in which opposition politicians are being attacked".
It came after two men were injured when unknown assailants on Sunday fired shots during a campaign rally held by an independent candidate in the central city of Gori.
The poisonous atmosphere around the polarised vote follows years of what the opposition sees as political witchhunts and retribution against Saakashvili and his team.
Saakashvili was forced out of the country after prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for abuse of power and now works as a regional governor in pro-Western Ukraine.
He says the charges against him are politically motivated.
A fifth of Georgian territory remains under the control of pro-Russian separatists following a short war with Russia in 2008 and the economy is emerging from a deep slowdown that has eroded living standards.
Source: Al Jazeera News And News Agencies