Pro-Russian party wins a toe-hold in Georgia's new parliament

October 11, 2016 11:20 AM EDT

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By Margarita Antidze

TBILISI (Reuters) - A small pro-Russian party has won seats in the Georgian parliament despite Russian troops controlling one fifth of the ex-Soviet republic and lingering memories of a short war between the two countries less than 10 years ago.

With 100 percent of the vote counted, data from the Central Election Commission showed on Tuesday that the pro-Russian Alliance of Patriots had won 5.01 percent of the vote, just passing the 5 percent threshold needed to get into parliament.

Its presence in the 150-seat parliament will be small, but some Georgians are upset that a pro-Russian party has got in despite recent history and are disappointed that smaller pro-Western parties failed to win any seats.

"I'm so disappointed that we won't have politicians from these other (pro-Western) parties in parliament," said Tamta Kirvalidze, a 26-year-old resident of Tbilisi, the capital.

The Alliance of Patriots favors greater integration with Russia and opposes Georgia joining NATO. Its leaders also talk up the Russian Orthodox Church's links to Georgia and warn that closer integration with Europe could damage Georgian traditions.

By contrast, the ruling Georgian Dream party, which comfortably won overall with 48.67 percent of the vote, favors integration with the West as well as closer ties with Russia, while the opposition United National Movement, which came second with 27.11 percent, is strongly pro-Western.

A U.S. ally traditionally buffeted between Russia and the West, Georgia hopes to join the European Union (EU) and NATO one day even though that is something that Russia, its former colonial master, strongly opposes.

Criss-crossed by strategically important oil and gas pipelines, a fifth of Georgian territory remains under the control of pro-Russian separatists following a short war with Russia in 2008.

Analysts don't expect any immediate changes in Georgia's foreign policy as a result of the election.

"I don't think that Georgia's pro-Western course will be changed, though a lot will depend on the pace of our integration with the West as well as on our desire to be more careful with Russia," said Koba Turmanidze, director of the Tbilisi-based Caucasus Research Resource Centre.

(Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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