Preliminary results in Georgia’s October 30 runoff elections show the ruling Georgian Dream party narrowly winning 19 of the 20 contested mayoral posts, including all five in the country’s major cities, as the opposition alleged that ballots had been rigged.
The Central Election Commission released preliminary results on October 31 showing Georgian Dream candidates winning mayoral elections in the capital, Tbilisi, as well as Batumi, Kutaisi, Poti, and Rustavi.
Georgian Dream candidates were also winning in 25 of 42 local council districts, with 15 districts won by opposition candidates.
After the results were announced, Nika Melia, a leader of the opposition United National Movement (ENM), said the elections were invalid.
“Let’s not kid ourselves,” he said. “Elections have been cancelled.”
Melia vowed “a fight without compromise” and later announced that the opposition would call for a major demonstration in Tbilisi on November 7.
Around 2,000-3,000 protesters rallied in the center of Tbilisi later on October 31.
Central Election Commission chief Georgi Kalandarishvili said the voting on October 30 had been competitive, free, and transparent.
He also said several incidents at polling stations, the nature of which he did not specify, had not had an impact on the results, the Interfax news agency said.
Kalandarishvili added that his commission would review complaints over the voting process in the coming days.
In televised remarks, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili hailed Georgian Dream’s results and congratulated the winning candidates.
Giorgi Baramidze, another ENM leader, on October 30 called on former President Mikheil Saakashvili to end his hunger strike, saying the opposition needs him alive to help mount a “peaceful revolution.”
"My Misha, my brother, we need you alive. Only Putin and Ivanishvili want you to die. You must not die on the curse of the enemy," Baramidze said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of Georgian Dream.
He called on Georgians to mount a “peaceful revolution” by isolating "this morally completely bankrupt regime" through rallies and disobedience.
Saakashvili has been on a hunger strike for almost a month. The opposition, doctors, and Saakashvili’s lawyers have been calling on the Georgian Dream government to move him to a private hospital to receive treatment, but Garibashvili has ruled that out, saying on October 29 that Saakashvili has a “right to commit suicide.”
The runoff elections have been overshadowed by Saakashvili's hunger strike, which came after his arrest within hours of his return from eight years in self-exile abroad on October 1.
The 53-year-old Saakashvili, who was president from 2004 to 2013, was sentenced in absentia to prison in 2018 for abuse of power and seeking to cover up evidence about the beating of an opposition member of parliament when he was president.
Saakashvili has said the charges against him are politically motivated.
Garibashvili this week urged voters to back Georgian Dream, calling Saakashvili's ENM an "anti-state and anti-national force."
In a statement released by his lawyers before polls opened, Saakashvili said the vote was "decisive for the Georgian democracy."
In his appeal to Saakashvili, Baramidze said the ENM’s main task will be to liberate him “by all methods of peaceful struggle” and work toward political isolation of the regime -- “a regime that has neither a political nor a moral basis, which even these elections showed.”
The first round of the Georgian elections on October 2 was criticized by international observers. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said it was marred by allegations of “intimidation, vote-buying, and pressure on candidates and voters.”
A Council of Europe monitor said the voting was “a lost opportunity for local democracy in Georgia,” and the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi cast doubt on “the overall fairness” of the elections.