Georgia’s ruling party wins local elections

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Georgia’s ruling party has won convincingly in local elections, just a day after the arrest of former president Mikheil Saakashvili, who had returned from exile to support the opposition.

The Georgian Dream party took around 47% of the votes to around 31 % for the opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), according to results released on Sunday by the Election Administration of Georgia.

The vote is being seen as a critical test to end months of political stalemate.

The mayoral races in Tbilisi and four other cities will need run-offs because none of the candidates collected an absolute majority of votes.

Saturday’s election was overshadowed by the return from exile and arrest of former president Mikheil Saakashvili, convicted in absentia in 2018 of abuse of office.

Authorities said they had warned Saakashvili he would be arrested if he ever returned to Georgia. In a statement released after his arrest, he blamed his detention on court decisions manufactured by his old foe, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said the former president would serve his full term of six years in prison. The current president says she will not offer him a pardon.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday he would engage personally in trying to return Saakashvili back to Ukraine.

Georgia has faced a political standoff since a disputed election last year prompted the main opposition party to boycott the parliament.

OSCE observers have said in a statement that Saturday’s local election had been “marred by wide-spread and consistent allegations of intimidation, vote-buying, pressure on candidates and voters, and an unlevel playing field,” although candidates were able to campaign freely.

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