No clear winner in mayoral elections in ex-Soviet Georgia

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A woman wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 casts her ballot at a polling station during second round of national municipal elections in Tbilisi, Georgia, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Most of Saturday's runoffs pit candidates from the ruling Georgian Dream party against challengers from the United National Movement that was founded by imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov)

TBILISI – Georgia’s ruling party and the main opposition party are both claiming victory in elections for mayors of the country’s largest cities.

Saturday’s runoff elections were held after no candidate won an absolute majority in the cities in the first round of nationwide municipal elections on Oct. 2.

Two exit polls commissioned by television stations produced contradictory results — one claiming that the ruling Georgian Dream party’s candidates won in the capital, Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi and Rustavi, and the other indicating victories for the opposition United National Movement.

Official results will be announced Sunday.

But Nika Melia, the UNM candidate in Tbilisi, claimed the opposition was winning in all major cities, while Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili of Georgian Dream was quoted by the news portal as saying “according to the preliminary results, we won in all municipalities.”

A shadow was cast over the elections by the arrest on the day before the first round of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, the founder of the UNM.

Saakashvili left Georgia in 2013 and was convicted in absentia of abuse of power and sentenced to six years. He returned to Georgia from his home in Ukraine, hoping to boost the opposition in the first round of voting, but was arrested within a day