Protests in Athens and Tbilisi before exit polls could assess strength of turnout
Exit polls in the final mayoral elections in Georgia are due on Sunday, with the results expected to be the first clear test of the political ambition of the former Soviet republic’s four pro-European candidates.
Officials have said the outcome will have a crucial impact on the course of the country’s post-Soviet democratic path, even though initial returns suggested that the field was already winnowed down to three or four candidates.
Monday’s protest in Athens failed to galvanise anti-government sentiment and break the grip of former Greek prime minister George Papandreou’s socialists.
However, the first round of voting in Tbilisi saw a smaller turnout than the 46% posted in the 2007 mayoral election that saw Levan Gachechiladze, who is a member of the opposition Democratic Movement party, elect the capital’s first mayor since the end of Soviet rule.
In the smaller Caucasus capital of Batumi, Mikhail Gurvich – the chief rival of the ruling Democratic Alliance of Georgia party – secured 21.4% of the vote.
Other opposition parties, including the Movement for Georgia and Georgian Dream, performed well but did not win more than 10% of the vote each.
In the fray against the former Eurovision song contest host Gachechiladze are Georgy Batsvarashvili, the leader of the Alliance for European Georgia party, and Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire tycoon and prime minister in former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev’s last administration.
The number of places in the ballot for the future mayor of Georgia’s capital and the ninth largest city in the world could be critical to the future of Georgia, which has often been cited as an early western frontier against the forces of neocolonialism, conservatism and religious fundamentalism.
Georgian officials put up 100,000 extra police at polling stations to ensure a fair election. There was no official police official, but a police truck idled in the middle of the City Hall lobby.
On Friday, as voting began, Georgy Nabuccov, the interior minister of Georgia’s NATO-allied “federal republic”, warned: “Freedom of speech is being abused and its individual participants are being repressed.”
Polls close at 6pm local time and the results are expected to be announced within hours. Exit polls are not always accurate.