Ruling party in ex-Soviet Georgia leads municipal elections

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A member of an election commission helps to a woman to cast her ballot at a polling station during national municipal elections in Tbilisi, Georgia, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. Former President Mikheil Saakashvili was arrested after returning to Georgia, the government said Friday, a move that came as the ex-leader sought to mobilize supporters ahead of the national municipal elections seen as critical to the country’s political makeup. The elections started Saturday. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov)

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Near-final results from nationwide municipal elections in Soviet ex-republic Georgia show the ruling party well ahead of challengers, but the mayoral contests in the country’s five largest cities likely will need runoffs.

The Central Elections Commission said Sunday that the tally from more than 99% of the vote showed the ruling Georgian Dream party with about 47% of the overall vote. The main opposition party United National Movement garnered 31% and array of other parties were in single digits.

Georgian Dream this spring signed a European Union-brokered agreement to call an early election for the national parliament if its share of the municipal elections vote was less than 43%. However, it later withdrew from the agreement, saying the UNM hadn’t signed it; that party later did so.

The mayoral races in Tbilisi, Batumi, Kutaisi, Poti and Rustavi all will need runoffs because no candidate got an absolute majority of votes.

Exiled former President Mikheil Saakashvili was arrested Friday after returning to the country in a bid to galvanize opposition to Georgian Dream.

Saakashvili, who left the country in 2014 after Georgian Dream won the presidency, faces up to six years in prison on convictions for abuse of power that were handed down in absentia.

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