A pro-independence opposition bloc appeared to be headed toward victory Monday in Georgia's first free parliamentary elections in a major defeat for the communist government.
Dapaus Upashvili, a member of the republic's Central Election Commission, said official figures were not yet available, but that based on preliminary results the Round Table-Free Georgia bloc won Sunday's elections and might gain a clear majority in the 250-seat Tbilisi legislature."We are sure that Round Table has won in almost every district," he told United Press International. "I think they will have more than 50 percent."
The preliminary results vindicated the prediction of Round Table leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who said before the polls that his opposition bloc would gain a parliamentary majority if the vote counting was fair.
A victory by the Round Table bloc would give Gamsakhurdia, a former dissident imprisoned under Leonid Brezhnev and a fervent anti-communist, the inside track on becoming the leader of the Transcaucasian republic.
"The Georgian people want independence," Gamsakhurdia said Sunday. "They know the real national movement. This (day) is a very important step for the people of Georgia."
An opinion poll taken a week before the elections predicted that the communists would take about 32 percent of the vote, with the Round Table group garnering 21.5 percent.
Georgians went to the polls to form a parliament from a bewildering array of 1,900 candidates in more than 30 parties challenging Communist supremacy.
Half, or 125, of the seats in the Georgian Parliament were to go to individuals and half were slated for blocs that will fill any posts they win with candidates of their choosing. A bloc had to receive at least 4 percent of the vote to gain representation.
Voting in the ancient capital of Tbilisi was brisk with lines at polling stations and election officials reporting heavy turnout. Election officials reported an overall turnout of about 75 percent.
"I don't remember ever seeing such an active participation of the population," said Tengiz Sigua, deputy chairman of the election commission.
Turnout ranged from 85 percent in districts of southern and eastern Georgia to just 10 percent in parts of Ossetia and Abkhazia.