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Georgia leader Mikhail Saakashvili faces election test

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The FINANCIAL — Georgians began voting today in parliamentary elections amid a public outcry over the rape and beating of prisoners that threatens the nine-year rule of U.S. ally President Mikheil Saakashvili.

bidzina-ivanishvili.jpgThe FINANCIAL — Georgians began voting today in parliamentary elections amid a public outcry over the rape and beating of prisoners that threatens the nine-year rule of U.S. ally President Mikheil Saakashvili.

While Saakashvili’s ruling party held a lead of more than 20 percentage points in a poll conducted last month, the release on Sept. As Bloomberg reported, 18 of footage showing prison guards beating and raping male inmates with a broom handle and truncheon sparked mass protests in Georgia, a key link in energy-transit routes linking Russia and the West. Voting stations close at 8 p.m. in Tbilisi, with exit polls right after. Preliminary official results are expected tomorrow.

“After these revelations, the situation seriously changed and we can say that the victory of the ruling party won’t be by as big a margin as expected,” said Alexander Rondeli, head of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in Tbilisi. “I can’t exclude that they may lose, though they tried to improve their situation” by replacing the interior and prisons ministers and dismissing penitentiary staff.

The opposition movement of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who’s accused by the Georgian government of ties with Russia where he made his fortune, is vowing to end Saakashvili’s rule in the former Soviet state, Bloomberg reports. Georgia, which has been allied with the West since the so-called Rose Revolution swept Saakashvili to power, fought a 2008 war with Russia in a failed bid to regain control of a breakaway region.

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Voters in Georgia are going to the polls in an election regarded as President Mikhail Saakashvili's biggest test since he came to power in 2003.

Opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia's richest man, accuses the president of acting undemocratically and trampling on people's rights, BBC reports.

Mr Saakashvili says his opponent would allow Russia to dominate the former Soviet republic.

The president led the country in a short war with Russia in 2008.

He has sought to portray the election as a choice between his progressive Western-leaning government, and a future dominated by Russia.

"Tomorrow, our enemy has its last chance to turn us off our path of independence," Mr Saakashvili said in a recorded address carried on state TV on Sunday."But I am confident that tomorrow our freedom-loving nation will take the ultimate and decisive step towards liberation from the pincers of the conqueror and towards integration into the house of Europe."

The government's reputation has taken a battering in recent weeks because of a prisoner-abuse scandal.

Videos broadcast on national television showed prison inmates being beaten and sexually abused by guards.

The scandal sparked street protests and has allowed Mr Ivanishvili to portray the government as high-handed and uncaring.

"This regime cannot be the leadership of our country. This system should collapse," he told supporters of his Georgian Dream coalition at a rally on Saturday.

Analysts say the election is crucial because Georgia's political system is being altered to give more power to parliament.

Mr Saakashvili's second term as president ends next year, and he is constitutionally barred from standing again.

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A parliamentary majority for his United National Movement could see him continue his domination of Georgian politics after he steps down.

The BBC's Damien McGuinness in Tbilisi says fist-fights are already a common feature of campaign meetings, and there are fears a dispute over the results could lead to violence.

 

 

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