Ruling party leads in Georgia’s vote and may avoid snap elections

Former president Mikheil Saakashvili was arrested on Friday

The ruling Georgian Dream party appeared to have taken the lead with 47.6 per cent of votes in local elections in the Caucasian country on Saturday.

The figure, in an exit poll ordered by the Imedi TV station reported by Russian news agencies, could be enough to avert a snap parliamentary vote.

The elections could cause an escalation in a political stand-off between the ruling party and the opposition.

They have taken on significance amid a months-long political crisis that erupted after the parliamentary election last year and led the opposition to boycott the chamber.

On Friday, one day before the poll, the former president and opposition politician Mikheil Saakashvili was arrested.

According to the exit poll, the the main opposition party, the United National Movement, has garnered 27.1 per cent of votes, Russian news agencies reported.

The UNM was founded by Saakashvili, and its head was arrested in February but released in May after a push by the EU to broker a deal between the party and the government.

That deal collapsed over the summer, when the ruling Georgian Dream party withdrew.

Under the deal, Georgian Dream would have to call snap parliamentary elections if it failed to get 43 per cent of the vote in local elections on Saturday.

A recent opinion poll suggested popular support for Georgian Dream was below that threshold.

Though the deal has now unravelled, political analysts said the vote could trigger protests if the ruling party failed to reach the threshold outlined in the deal and declined to call snap parliamentary elections.

“If Georgian Dream doesn’t get what it got in the previous parliamentary elections, which was 48.22 per cent, we might have some turmoil again, probably another wave of political crisis,” said Soso Dzamukashvili, a junior researcher at Emerging Europe, a think tank.

Saakashvili left Georgia in 2013 and was sentenced to prison in absentia in 2018.

He was arrested on Friday after he returned to Georgia and called on his supporters to vote for the opposition and stage a post-election street protest.

Georgia’s authorities had warned him he would be arrested if he returned.

President Salome Zourabichvili said after his arrest that she would not pardon him, and accused him of trying to destabilise the country.

Saakashvili’s lawyer denounced his arrest on Friday as a “political detention”.

In a letter published on Saturday by his lawyer and shared on his Twitter page, Saakashvili, 53, restated his appeal to his supporters to cast their votes and said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “fabricated, false verdicts” were behind his arrest.

The population of Georgia is about 3.9 million.

Updated: October 3rd 2021, 1:19 AM