Final preliminary results from Georgia’s mayoral elections suggest that the candidates of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition have been elected mayors of Tbilisi, Batumi, Poti, and Rustavi in the first round of voting.
In the capital, Tbilisi, former AC Milan footballer Kakha Kaladze had 51.13 percent of the vote, the Central Election Commission said on October 22, followed by the United National Movement's Zaal Udumashvili with 17.49 percent and independent Aleko Elisashvili with 16.53 percent.
Georgian Dream candidates also gathered more than 50 percent in Batumi, Poti, and Rustavi, thereby avoiding a runoff.
In Kutaisi, Georgia's second-largest city, the coalition’s candidate led with more than 48 percent but a second round of voting will be necessary.
The countrywide local elections were seen by many as a key test for the Georgian Dream coalition ahead of next year’s presidential election.
Exit polls also indicated a large victory for the Georgian Dream coalition in the Tbilisi city council race.
In Kutaisi, Georgia's second-largest city, exit polls showed the Georgia Dream candidate also scoring a large victory.
Mayoral candidates need to win more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round or face a runoff.
The previous elections were held in two rounds in 2014, with the Georgian Dream coalition winning most of the council seats and mayoral positions.
The election campaign began on August 22, but the majority of parties and mayoral candidates put forward their manifestos just a few weeks ago.
Observers had predicted that a second round of voting would be necessary, especially in mayoral races.
In late June, parliament changed the law on self-government, reducing the number of towns and cities where a mayor is directly elected from 12 to five.
Thirteen candidates were in the running for the position of Tbilisi mayor.
Kaladze was backed by Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of Georgian Dream and a former prime minister who is the South Caucasus country's richest man.
A survey this month by the National Democratic Institute showed Kaladze led all candidates with the support of around 30 percent of voters. Kaladze's closest challenger, Udumashvili, is a popular former TV anchor, representing the opposition United National Movement.
Kaladze has promised to boost Tbilisi's economy by ramping up tourism, simplifying government and bureaucracy, and creating a new transportation network.
Georgian Dream has been accused of using administrative resources -- a term for the use of the bureaucracy, favorable state media coverage, and loyal officials to coerce or intimidate voters -- and other forms of pressure to ensure victory for its own candidates.
Kaladze has rejected the allegations.
CEC Chairwoman Tamar Zhvania said that, while there have been instances of the use of administrative resources, the number of complaints has declined in comparison to previous years.
The CEC had said there would be 20,641 observers from Georgian election monitoring groups and 581 international observers.
Issues related to the environment and transportation were key in these elections. Air pollution is especially a problem in Tbilisi, a city which has undergone a massive construction boom recently.
On October 11, police scuffled with opposition activists protesting against the Tbilisi city council's move to give a plot of land to a construction company linked to Kaladze ally Ivanishvili.
The plot of land is on Liberty Square in downtown Tbilisi, where a new hotel and parking area are planned.
Ivanishvili withdrew from politics in November 2013, but many believe he continues to control Georgian Dream from behind the scenes.
Georgian Dream defeated former President Mikheil Saakashvili's party and came to power in 2012 parliamentary elections.
With reporting by BBC, OC Media, civil.ge, and agenda.de