In some municipalities and especially in large cities, Georgians will go to the polls on Saturday in the second round of municipal elections. Meanwhile, Mikhail Saakashvili, who served as the country’s president from 2004 to 2013 and is now considered the leader of the opposition, has been in prison since early October. The 53-year-old politician was arrested upon returning from years in exile ahead of the first round of elections.
Saakashvili immediately began a hunger strike to protest his arrest, which he says is purely politically motivated. I will be on hunger strike as long as I am in prison. I demand that the legal system in Georgia not be used for political purposes.” On Wednesday, the United States expressed concerns about Saakashvili’s health as the Georgian authorities refused to admit him to hospital, contrary to doctors’ recommendations.
In the municipal elections, the candidates of the Georgian Dream, the ruling party, will face the candidates of the United National Movement led by Saakashvili. Although the Georgian Dream took the lead in the first round in small towns, the mood in many major cities, including the capital Tbilisi, seemed to be in favor of the UNPU. After the first round of elections, those in power declared victory on October 2, but the opposition spoke of fraud.
According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the election was marred by “widespread and repeated allegations of harassment, vote buying and pressure on candidates and voters”. Over the course of the week, incumbent President Irakli Garibashvili called on Georgians to vote for the Georgian Dream, describing the UN movement as an “anti-state and anti-patriotic force.” In a statement distributed by his lawyers on Saturday morning, Saakashvili called the second round “decisive for Georgian democracy.”
Saakashvili was president of Georgia from 2004 to 2013 and also led the country’s main opposition party. He was sentenced in absentia to six years in prison in 2018 for abuse of power. His arrest led to great unrest. Tens of thousands of supporters demonstrated in the capital, Tbilisi. Since leaving Georgia, Saakashvili has acquired Ukrainian citizenship. He also works for the Ukrainian government.
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