The second round of the local elections held on October 30 ended with the Central Election Commission (CEC) declaring the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) of oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili victorious in 19 out of 20 municipalities where the citizens voted in mayoral run-offs. Thus, the official results now show that the GD has won in all major municipalities, including the self-governing cities of Batumi, Kutaisi, Rustavi, Poti, and the capital city of Tbilisi, where about one-third of the country’s entire population resides. Hard-to-pronounce Tsalenjikha in western Georgia is the only municipality where the opposition hopeful managed to surpass the GD mayoral candidate.
According to the CEC results, GD mayoral candidate in Tbilisi Kakha Kaladze received 55.6% of the vote, while the United National Movement’s (UNM) leader Nika Melia received 44.3%. In the second largest city - Batumi, UNM’s Giorgi Kirtadze (49%) was beaten narrowly by GD’s Archil Chikovani (51%). And in the third largest city of Kutaisi, UNM’s Khatia Dekanoidze received 48.3% of the votes against GD’s Ioseb Khakhaleishvili’s 51.6%.
The opposition, which had anticipated victories in some of the major municipalities and especially where their candidates had won the first round of the elections (Kutaisi, Batumi, Zugdidi), has declared that the run-offs were rigged. UNM’s leader Nika Melia said that Bidzina Ivanishvili’s GD “took away and stole” victories from the opposition “in many municipalities.” Giorgi Gakharia, ex-GD Prime-Minister of Georgia, whose For Georgia party, the second biggest opposition party, has been positioning itself as an alternative to GD and UNM, has also stated that the “elections were neither free nor fair,” arguing that if relevant progress is not made, “voting risks becoming a meaningless show” in Georgia. The UNM-led opposition has vowed that the political fight will now continue on the streets of the entire country.
Election observers of the OSCE/ODIHR and European Parliament issued a joint statement regarding the run-offs: “[The election] was generally well administered but continued polarization coupled with escalation of negative rhetoric adversely affected the process”. The statement also voiced concerns over the “persistent practice of representatives of observer organizations acting as party supporters, at times interfering with the process, and groups of individuals potentially influencing voters outside some polling stations”. The US Embassy in Georgia, while assessing the elections, stated that “some of the reforms enacted by Georgia’s political leaders through an inclusive, multiparty process earlier this year...were undermined, unfortunately, by wide-spread violations in the pre-election period and on both election days that adversely affected the ability of citizens to vote freely”.
Both first and second rounds of the elections were held against the backdrop of the GD government imprisoning Georgia’s ex-president and the founder of the UNM, Mikheil Saakashvili, who has been on hunger strike for over a month, protesting what he believes to be politically motivated persecution. After the CEC released the election results, Saakashvili has called on his supporters to hold permanent rallies in different locations until the GD government is forced to schedule snap elections.