Mayoral Election in Georgia’s Tbilisi May End in a Run-Off
(Bloomberg) -- The incumbent mayor in Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi claimed victory on Saturday even as competing exit polls were unclear that he won 50% of the vote, enough to avoid a run-off.
Georgia’s Central Election Commission has yet to release preliminary results. It estimated turnout at 41.35% for local elections across the country.
Exit polls on pro-government television estimated incumbent Kakha Kaladze of the Georgia Dream party had 51.3% support, and opposition contender Nika Melia of the United National Movement had 34.6%.
However, exit polls released by opposition forces put Kaladze, 43, a former soccer player on the Georgian national team, at 40.2% and Melia at 40.8%. Giorgi Gakharia, a former prime minister, had 8.7% support.
Appearing to thank voters, Melia said that “we saw the results of the mayoral election and, of course, the second round will be held.”
A survey of likely voters conducted Sept. 21-25 by Paris-based pollster Ipsos had suggested Kaladze would fall short of an outright win.
Earlier, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, detained Friday as the country prepared for local elections, urged his supporters to vote against the incumbent party.
Saakashvili, who returned from eight years in exile in defiance of warnings he’d be prosecuted for alleged abuse of power, was moved to the Rustavi prison, near Tbilisi.
The government has accused him of misusing power while also charging him for crossing the border illegally. Melia said Saturday that Saakashvili is now a political prisoner.
“I believe in my country’s development, no vote must be lost in this crucial election,” Saakashvili said in a letter released from the prison and posted on Twitter. He also called on supporters to take to the streets to protect their votes, right after the polls close.
The ruling party, Georgian Dream, was formed by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, the former Soviet republic’s wealthiest person. He defeated Saakashvili in the 2012 election.
Gakharia, who was praised for his effective handling of the Covid-19 pandemic before he quit in February, formed the “For Georgia” party three months later.
Some 338 international election observers from 37 countries are on hand for Georgia’s elections. They’re expected to report on the conduct of the polls on Sunday.
Voters were voting to elect 64 mayors and 2,068 members of 64 city councils, according to the election commission.
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