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Georgia Exit Polls Indicate Ex-Footballer Kaladze Winning Big In Tbilisi Mayor's Race

RFE/RL October 21, 2017

Exit polls in Georgia are indicating that former AC Milan footballer Kakha Kaladze of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition is far ahead of the pack in the Tbilisi mayor's race and may avoid the need for a runoff.

Official results were not yet available early on October 22, but an exit poll commissioned by Imedi TV and conducted by the Gorbi firm indicated that Kaladze took 53 percent of the vote, followed by United National Movement's Zaal Udumashvili and independent Aleko Elisashvili, with about 14 percent each.

Rustavi2 TV released a poll conducted by the Edison Research Co. indicating similar results.

The countrywide vote was seen by many as a key test for the Georgian Dream coalition ahead of next year's presidential election.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) said nearly 1.6 million people voted, representing a turnout of 45.64 percent in contests for 58 municipal and district heads, and five mayors -- in Tbilisi, Batumi, Kutaisi, Poti, and Rustavi. Voters were also choosing 2,058 members for 64 local councils.

Exit polls also indicated a large victory for the Georgian Dream coalition in the Tbilisi city council race.

In Kutaisi, Georgia's second-largest city, exit polls showed the Georgia Dream candidate also scoring a large victory.

Mayoral candidates need to win more than 50% of the votes in the first round or face a runoff.

The previous elections were held in two rounds in 2014, with the Georgian Dream coalition winning most of the council seats and mayoral positions.

The election campaign began on August 22, but the majority of parties and mayoral candidates put forward their manifestos just a few weeks ago.

Observers had predicted that a second round of voting will be necessary, especially in mayoral races.

In late June, parliament changed the law on self-government, reducing the number of towns and cities where a mayor is directly elected from 12 to five.

Thirteen candidates are in the running for the position of Tbilisi mayor.

Kaladze was backed by Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of Georgian Dream and a former prime minister who is the South Caucasus country's richest man.

A survey this month by the National Democratic Institute showed Kaladze led all candidates with the support of around 30 percent of voters. Kaladze's closest challenger, Udumashvili, is a popular former TV anchor, representing the opposition United National Movement.

Kaladze has promised to boost Tbilisi's economy by ramping up tourism, simplifying government and bureaucracy, and creating a new transportation network.

The Georgian Dream party has been accused of using administrative resources -- a term for the use of the bureaucracy, favorable state media coverage, and loyal officials to coerce or intimidate voters -- and other forms of pressure to ensure victory for its own candidates.

Kaladze has rejected the allegations.

CEC Chairwoman Tamar Zhvania said that, while there have been instances of the use of administrative resources, the number of complaints has declined in comparison to previous years.

The CEC had said there would be 20,641 observers from Georgian election monitoring groups and 581 international observers.

Issues related to the environment and transportation are key in these elections. Air pollution is especially a problem in Tbilisi, a city which has undergone a massive construction boom recently.

On October 11, police scuffled with opposition activists protesting against the Tbilisi city council's move to give a plot of land to a construction company linked to Kaladze ally Ivanishvili.

The plot of land is on Liberty Square in downtown Tbilisi, where a new hotel and parking area are planned.

Ivanishvili withdrew from politics in November 2013, but many believe he continues to control Georgian Dream from behind the scenes.

Georgian Dream defeated former President Mikheil Saakashvili's party and came to power in 2012 parliamentary elections.

With reporting by BBC, OC Media, and civil.ge, and agenda.de

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/georgia-kaladze-tbilisi- elections-georgian-dream/28808247.html

Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.



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