Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (R) meets with his Georgian counterpart Mikhail Saakashvili during the informal Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) summit in St. Petersburg on June 6, 2008. Medvedev is meeting with other leaders from a fractious grouping of former Soviet republics. (UPI Photo/Anatoli Zhdanov) | License Photo
TBILISI, Georgia, May 31 (UPI) -- Municipal election exit polls across Georgia indicate President Mikheil Saakashvili's National Movement won a majority of the vote, officials said.
Georgians voted Sunday to elect 64 new municipal councils for four-year terms in what observers said was a first test of the strength Saakashvili's government since the August 2008 war with Russia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Monday.
Observers said the crucial test would be in Georgia's capital of Tbilisi, where voters were electing a city council and directly electing a mayor for the first time. The mayoral race is seen as a table-setter for parliamentary elections in 2012 and a presidential poll in 2013, when Saakashvili's second and final term as president ends.
Two exit polls showed incumbent Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, a member of Saakashvili's ruling United National Movement and an ally of the president, with a huge lead over Irakli Alasania.
Ugulava, a staunch Saakashvili ally, has faced criticism from opposition groups since the Georgian-Russian war that led to Moscow recognizing the independence of the former Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.
"Preliminary exit polls, and our political experience and intuition, tell us that the political force represented by Gigi and all of us gathered here was chosen by approximately the same number of voters as at the parliamentary elections in 2008 and the local elections four years ago," Saakashvili said. "This is very important. It means we still have the confidence and support of our people."