The United States has joined the European Union in voicing concern about the conduct of Georgia's local election runoffs, which resulted in the ruling Georgian Dream party largely sweeping the vote.
Georgia has been plagued by political paralysis since parliamentary elections in 2020. The crisis has deepened since former President Mikheil Saakashvili was jailed last month ahead of the first round of local elections and went on hunger strike.
Preliminary results from the October 30 runoff had Georgian Dream narrowly winning 19 of the 20 contested mayoral posts, including all five in the country's main cities.
The opposition United National Movement (ENM), which was founded by Saakashvili, alleged the vote was rigged and vowed to stage protests next weekend.
In a statement on November 1, the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi said it agreed with international election observers that the vote was well-administered, but it noted allegations of intimidation, pressure on voters, and an escalation of negative rhetoric impacting the vote.
"Sharp imbalances of resources and an undue advantage of incumbency further tilted the playing field," the embassy said.
While some electoral reforms ensured transparency and increased voters' rights, these positive developments were undermined by "widespread violations in the preelection period and on both election days that adversely affected the ability of citizens to vote freely," it said.
The statement largely echoed the view of the European Union, which said the vote was marked by numerous shortcomings, especially in the "misuse of administrative resources and violent rhetoric by Georgia's political leaders" that only served to increase political polarization.
"Suggestions made before these elections that the central government would not cooperate with local councils, should they swing towards another majority, are of concern as they seek to restrict the electorate's choice and to limit pluralism," the EU ambassador and EU heads of missions said in a joint statement on October 31.
According to observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the elections were "technically well run."
But they reiterated concerns voiced after the first round of voting over alleged "intimidation, vote-buying, pressure on candidates and voters."
"The ruling party again enjoyed an undue advantage," they said in a statement, referring to state-allocated resources.