Georgia votes in election shadowed by ex-president’s arrest

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Georgians are voting in municipal elections across the country that are seen as a test for the strength of the ruling party and which opposition parties hope could lead to an early national election.

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The vote came a day after the arrest of ex-president Mikhail Saakashvili on Saturday, who returned to the country to try to shore up opposition support despite facing prison for abuse of power declared after leaving Georgia.

Opinion polls showed that more than half of voters in the former Soviet republic were undecided before the election, with the ruling Georgian Dream Party and the United National Movement founded by Saakashvili being the main contenders.

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A strong demonstration by the opposition could escalate tensions if Georgians hope to bring an early national election.

The Georgian Dream signed an EU-broker agreement in the spring, under which an early parliament election would be held if the party received less than 43% of the vote in municipal ballots. But it later withdrew from the agreement as UNM did not sign it, although it was signed by that party after the Georgian Dream pulled out.

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Saakashvili, who left Georgia in 2014 and became a Ukrainian citizen, was arrested hours after posting a video on Facebook saying he had returned to the country.

He was sentenced to up to six years in prison in absentia, and several other court cases stemming from his 2004–13 presidency on charges involving the violent spread of a protest and a raid on a television station launched by a political rival. have to face.

Saakashvili’s first foreign minister, former ally, President Salome Zurabishvili, said on Friday that she would not consider an offer to pardon him.

Credit: www.independent.co.uk / Mikheil Saakashvili

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