Opposition parties in Georgia on Sunday wept over municipal elections held after the arrest of ex-president Mikhail Saakashvili on his return from exile, exacerbating a protracted political crisis in the Caucasus.
With 85 percent of districts counted, the ruling Georgian Dream party took nearly 48 percent of the vote in Saturday’s election, against 52 percent for all opposition parties, the official results showed.
Under an EU-brokered inter-party agreement in May, the ruling party promised to hold early parliamentary elections if it wins less than 43 percent of the vote on Saturday.
Georgian Dream said in a statement that the closely monitored elections were “held to the highest democratic standards”.
But opposition parties said on Sunday that widespread irregularities undermined the credibility of the election, which was held in a tense atmosphere after the arrest of Saakashvili, the country’s main opposition leader and former president.
“The election results have been falsified. We have witnessed pre-election intimidation and bribery of voters, multiple voting on election day,” Giori Baramidze, a leader of Saakashvili’s United National Movement – the country’s main opposition force – told AFP.
“The credibility of the election has already been undermined by the fact that the opposition leader was first forced into exile and then arrested,” he said, referring to Saakashvili.
“We will use all legal means to undo the forgery.”
Badri Japaridze, a leader of opposition Lelo party, said: “The elections were marred by widespread intimidation and bribery of voters, with serious consequences for the election results.”
Saakashvili, 53, secretly returned to Georgia from Ukraine on Friday — where he heads a government agency that directs reforms — ahead of the election and was quickly detained for abuse of jail time.
The flamboyantly pro-Western reformer and president in 2004-2013, denied any wrongdoing, denounced a six-year prison term as politically motivated and went on hunger strike.
His imprisonment exacerbated the political crisis that engulfed Georgia in October last year when opposition parties labeled the parliamentary elections rigged, refused to take their seats in the newly elected legislature and staged mass protests to demand rapid polls.