MOSCOW—Georgians vote Saturday 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. President Salome Zurabichvili said after her arrest that she would not pardon Saakashvili, and accused him of deliberately trying to destabilize the country.
Saakashvili’s lawyer on Friday called his arrest a “political detention”. In a letter published on Saturday to his lawyer and to his Twitter page, 53-year-old Saakashvili reiterated his appeal to his supporters to cast their votes and said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “fabricated, false decisions” were behind his arrest.
There is a long history of quarrels between Saakashvili and Putin.
Hostilities peaked in 2008 when Russian forces became involved in a brief war in an isolated region of Georgia, where Saakashvili was in power. Putin was the Prime Minister of Russia at the time and supported military actions.
The Kremlin said on Friday that the issue of Saakashvili was beyond its scope of responsibility.
Elections in the country of nearly 3.9 million, including a vote for the mayor of the capital Tbilisi, have taken on significance amid a month-long political crisis that began after last year’s parliamentary election, which prompted the opposition to boycott the chamber. inspired.
The head of the main opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), which was founded by Saakashvili, was arrested in February, but in a bid to ease the standoff between the government and the party, the EU brokered a push. Between was released in May.
The deal collapsed in the summer when the ruling Georgian Dream Party withdrew.
The deal said parliamentary elections would need to be postponed if the Georgian Dream failed to garner 43 percent of the vote in Saturday’s local elections.
A recent opinion poll showed popular support for the Georgian Dream at 36 percent, below that threshold.
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 percent, then we may again have some turmoil, perhaps another period of political crisis. Wave.”
by Gabrielle Tetroalt-Farber and Tom Balmforth
This News Originally From – The Epoch Times