Georgia vote marred by 'widespread' allegations of intimidation: OSCE

Tbilisi (AFP) –


Georgia municipal polls held after ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili's arrest were marred by widespread allegations of intimidation, international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Sunday.

The electoral environment of Saturday's vote was "marred by widespread and consistent allegations of intimidation, vote-buying, pressure on candidates and voters, and an unlevel playing field," OSCE observers told a news conference in the capital Tbilisi.

They also said the ruling Georgian Dream party's "misuse of administrative resources" gave it an "undue advantage."

"Cases of intimidation and violence against journalists were of concern," they added.

After almost all precincts were counted, Georgian Dream party led with 46.6 percent of the votes in the elections, while all of the opposition parties combined garnered 53.4 percent, official results showed.

Georgian Dream said in a statement that the closely watched elections "were held at the highest democratic standards".

But opposition parties said on Sunday that widespread irregularities undermined the credibility of the elections, held in a tense atmosphere after Saakashvili, the country's foremost opposition leader and former president, was arrested on his return from exile.

His jailing aggravated the political crisis that engulfed Georgia last October when opposition parties denounced parliamentary elections as rigged, refused to take up their seats in the legislature and staged mass protests to demand snap polls.

Prior to his arrest, Saakashvili had called on supporters to take to the streets "to protect election results".

But opposition parties have so far refrained from staging protests as they awaited the conclusions from international monitors.