TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — The governing party in Georgia has solidified its control of the ex-Soviet nation's Parliament, winning enough seats to change the country's Constitution, according to early runoff election results released Monday.
The Georgian Dream party took 67 of the Parliament's 150 seats in voting three weeks ago. During Sunday's runoffs, it won 48 of the 50 remaining seats to give it a 115-seat majority.
Georgian Dream was started by tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia. He later became prime minister, but even after stepping down from the post he is still seen as the party's dominant figure.
The opposition United National Movement, led by former President Mikhail Saakashvili, only won 27 seats. Although Saakashvili was stripped of his citizenship after becoming governor of Ukraine's Odessa region, he holds wide influence in UNM, which denounces the governing party as the creation of a Russian oligarch.
Both Georgian Dream and United National Movement are pro-West with goals of establishing better relations and possible eventual membership in NATO and the European Union.
But Georgian Dream has tried to balance these aspirations with repairing relations with Russia that were shattered under Saakashvili.
During Saakashvili's rule, Russia and Georgia fought a short war in 2008 that ended with Georgia losing control of two Russia-friendly separatist regions.
The issue of the regions' status has remained a key irritant, but ties between Moscow and Tbilisi have improved following Saakashvili's departure.
Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili pledged over the weekend to further boost economic and cultural ties with Russia, a course he said "has contributed to the feeling of stability in Georgia."
The three-fourths majority Georgian Dream holds in Parliament would give it the votes to change the Constitution. The party is expected to introduce an amendment that would end popular presidential elections and make the presidency a position appointed by Parliament.