Georgians go to the polls Saturday to vote in local elections that could escalate a political standoff between the ruling party and the opposition, a day after the arrest of former president and opposition politician Mikhail Saakashvili.
Saakashvili, who left Georgia in 2013 and was sentenced to prison in absentia in 2018, was arrested on Friday after returning to Georgia and urged his supporters to vote for opposition and hold street protests after the election. was called upon.
Georgia officials warned that he would be arrested if he returned, and President Salome Zurabichvili said he would not pardon the 53-year-old after his arrest and accused him of trying to destabilize the country. .
The election, which includes a vote for the capital’s mayor Tbilisi, has taken on significance amid a month-long political crisis that arose in the wake of last year’s parliamentary election, which prompted the opposition to boycott the chamber.
The head of the main opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), which was founded by Saakashvili, was arrested in February and arrested in May by the European Union for brokering a deal to ease the standoff between the government and the party. was released amid a push.
The deal collapsed in the summer when the ruling Georgian Dream Party withdrew.
The deal said the Georgian Dream would be required to call a snap parliamentary election if it failed to garner 43% of the vote in Saturday’s local elections.
A recent poll showed popular support for the Georgian Dream at 36% below that range.
While the deal is now settled, political analysts say the vote could trigger protests if the ruling party fails to reach the threshold mentioned in the deal and refuses to call mid-term parliamentary elections.
Soso Zamukashvili, Junior Researcher at Emerging Europe, said, “If the Georgian Dream doesn’t get what it got in the last parliamentary elections, which was 48.22%, we may again have some turmoil, perhaps another period of political crisis. Wave.”
Saakashvili’s return and arrest on Friday have thrown another wild card into the country’s count of less than four million people.
Before being detained and detained, Saakashvili asked his supporters to vote for UNM or any smaller party opposing the Georgian Dream, and to gather in central Tbilisi on Sunday.
“Everyone should go to the election and vote, and on October 3 we have to fill Freedom Square. If there are 100,000 people, no one can beat us,” he said.