Georgians have voted in local and municipal elections, an important test for the ruling Georgian Dream coalition ahead of next year’s presidential election.
Voters cast ballots to elect 58 municipal and district heads, as well as five mayors, in Tbilisi, Batumi, Kutaisi, Poti, and Rustavi. Voters will also choose 2,058 members for 64 local councils.
According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), 22 political parties, five political blocks, and one initiative group are registered.
The previous elections were held in two rounds in 2014, with the ruling 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.
The main contest will be for the top post of Tbilisi mayor. Mayoral candidates will need to win more than 50% of the votes to win in the first round or face a runoff.
Observers predict that a second round of voting will be necessary, especially in the five cities seeking to elect a new mayor.
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 are in the running for the position of Tbilisi mayor, including the former AC Milan footballer Kakha Kaladze, who is running as a candidate for Georgian Dream.
He is 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 is Zaal Udumashvili, 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.
The ruling Georgian Dream coalition 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 those 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 said there will be 20,641 observers from Georgian election monitoring groups and 581 international observers.
Issues related to the environment and transportation are 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 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.