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Georgia ruling party leading vote overshadowed by Saakashvili's arrest

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This screen-grab made from a handout video released by Georgia's Interior Ministry shows former Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili escorted by police officers as he was detained in Tbilisi on October 1, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Georgia's ruling party has taken the lead in municipal elections amid controversy over the arrest of former president and opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili.

Local media reported that Georgian Dream had bagged 47.6% of the vote, with the United National Movement (UNM) founded by Saakashvili, gaining just 27.1%.

However, a separate exit poll by opposition channel Mtavari Arkhi had the ruling party ahead only narrowly and falling far short of the 43% threshold, with just 38.6% to 33% for the UNM.

Political analysts say the results of the municipal elections in the country of around 3.9 million could determine its political structure.  

"If Georgian Dream doesn't get what it got in the previous parliamentary elections, which was 48.22%, we might have some turmoil again, probably another wave of political crisis," said Soso Dzamukashvili, junior researcher at Emerging Europe.

Georgian Dream has been the governing party in Georgia since 2012.

Saakashvili was arrested on Friday after he flew in from exile. He had been warned that he would be arrested upon his return.

“Political opponents are not locked up on falsified charges or forced into exile,” he said in a message from jail.

Saakashvili, a pro-Western reformer who left the country after his second term as president ended in 2013, called on his supporters to mount a post-election street protest.

His lawyer denounced Saakashvili's arrest as a "political detention."

After Saakashvili's arrest, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili accused him of deliberately trying to destabilize the government.

Zourabichvili said she would not pardon Saakashvili for it.

On Friday, the Kremlin accused the former Georgian president of being responsible for the political turmoil in the country. “Wherever Saakashvili is, there is a circus,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

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