The second round of municipal elections will take place in Georgia tomorrow, including in all big cities of the country, amid a polarized political environment and continued rivalry between the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party and the main opposition, the United National Movement.
The GD claims they will ‘finally defeat and end the UNM’ in the race, describing it ‘as an evil force’ which has been hampering development for 18 years, while the UNM still hopes the run-offs will lead to snap parliamentary elections ‘and the changing of the GD government.’
The return of the third president, Mikheil Saakashvili, to Georgia ahead of the first round of elections on October 2, has further complicated the political landscape.
Saakashvili, who has been on hunger strike for almost a month, claims that his ‘life and freedom, as well as the country’s fate’ depend on voters’ support of the UNM in the run-offs.
Grandiose “For Dignity and Freedom” rally is being held on central Feedom Square and adjacent streets and squares in Tbilisi in support of the governing Georgian Dream party, ahead of the run-off election on Saturday, which will seal GD’s victory. pic.twitter.com/1P22uVFjW7— Georgian Dream (@GeorgianDream41) October 27, 2021
Mayoral election runoffs will be held in 20 of 64 election constituencies, including all five big cities of Georgia - Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Rustavi, Batumi and Poti.
The remaining 15 constituencies where mayoral run-offs will take place are: Telavi, Tianeti, Khashuri, Kareli, Tsageri, Bagdati, Tskaltubo, Ozurgeti, Senaki, Martvili, Khobi, Zugdidi, Tsalenjkha, Chkhorotsku and Khelvachauri.
The mayoral run-offs in 17 of 20 constituencies will be held between the candidates of the GD and the UNM, while in three other constituencies, GD candidates will oppose the representatives of For Georgia, For United Georgia, and an independent candidate.
The majoritarian run-offs will take place in 24 election constituencies for 42 seats in city assemblies.
Candidates from nine parties, from the GD, UNM, For Georgia, Lelo, Girchi – More Freedom, European Socialists, United Georgia – Democratic Movement, Tamaz Mechiauri for United Georgia and Free Georgia, as well as one independent candidate, will participate in majoritarian run-offs.
“I’m appealing for help, not for myself, but for a Georgian democracy by taking this desperate step of coming and turning myself in. I wanted both, to express solidarity to my suffering nation and awaken the consciousness of the World.” #FreeSaakashvili pic.twitter.com/eNToDIGSVe— Mikheil Saakashvili (@SaakashviliM) October 21, 2021
Georgian municipal elections have a mixed electoral system.
Voters must fill in three ballots: the first ballot is for mayoral candidates (who are elected per a 50%+1 system). The winner is the candidate who receives at least 50%+1 of the vote, otherwise a second round of elections will be held.
The second ballot is for majoritarian candidates in city assemblies – winners must receive more than 40% of the vote in the first round of elections to win the race (otherwise a second round of elections will be held).
The third ballot is for parties, who need at least 2.5% of the vote to receive seats in Tbilisi City Assembly, and 3% in other city assemblies across the country.
According to recent changes to the electoral code, 40 members in the 50-member Tbilisi City Assembly are elected by the proportional electoral system, while the remaining 10 by the majoritarian electoral system (previously the ratio stood at 25/25).
According to the final results of the first round of the race, the GD received 46.74% of the vote, the UNM received 30.68% of the vote, while ex-PM Giorgi Gakharia’s For Georgia party garnered 7.79% of the vote in the proportional part of the elections.
All other parties finished up with under three per cent of the vote.
The GD also won 44 of 64 mayoral races.
The Georgian Central Election Commission (CEC) says that 2,088,722 voters have been registered to participate in municipal election run-offs, while the number of eligible voters stood at 3,497,345 in the first round of elections.
5,309 representatives from parties, 35,198 observers of 100 local organizations, and 1,202 foreign observers from 52 international organizations, will monitor the run-offs.
3,711 representatives from 119 media outlets have been registered to cover election day.
1,830 polling stations will open tomorrow, as well as 29 polling stations for COVID patients and individuals in self-isolation, and eight polling stations for exceptional situations.
Cameras will be installed in 1,760 polling stations where the number of voters is over 300.
The UNM and other opposition parties claim that the municipal elections ‘are also a referendum.’
The April 2021 EU-mediated agreement between the ruling party and the majority of opposition parties proposed the holding of repeat parliamentary elections if the GD received less than 43% of the vote in the October 2 municipal elections.
However, ahead of the elections, the ruling party withdrew from the agreement ‘because of the refusal of the UNM to join it.’
The UNM did not join the agreement because it disagreed with a stipulation on amnesty for convicts of the June 2019 protests in Tbilisi.
The opposition parties and Saakashvili were hopeful that the GD would not be able to receive the 43% of the vote in the proportional part of the elections, and that, due to international pressure, it would have to accept the holding of snap parliamentary elections.
However, the GD received 47% of the vote in the proportional part of the race and has plans to win all mayoral constituencies.
@NikaMelia5 presents the shadow cabinet for Tbilisi first-ever coalition government, including the leaders of @Girchi_GE, @LeloForGeorgia, @MovementDroa as candidates for vice-Mayors in the lead up to Georgia's municipal election run-off pic.twitter.com/6GHVIKuXaK— UNM Georgia (ენმ) (@UNMGeorgia) October 20, 2021
Ahead of the run-offs, UNM head Nika Melia signed an agreement with five other opposition parties, and claimed he would form a coalition government in the capital after he wins the mayoral race.
However, the GD says the proposal is ‘another lie’ by the UNM as the GD has already won a majority in the Tbilisi City Assembly and incumbent mayor, Kakha Kaladze, who came first in the first round of the elections, will also ‘definitely win the run-off.’
If Melia does win the Tbilisi race, he will not be able to appoint his candidates to top posts without the approval of the Tbilisi City Assembly.
In the Senaki, Rustavi, and Batum assemblies, the GD is likely to need to form a coalition with other parties to form a majority.
Former PM Gakharia has offered both the UNM and the GD negotiations on joint candidates for high posts in city assemblies where his party has won seats, and is thereby able to help either of the parties to form a majority.
However, the GD has not accepted the offer.