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Symbolic protest as Georgia votes

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The FINANCIAL — A Georgian billionaire who is the main rival to President Mikheil Saakashvili in the country's parliamentary election has refused to vote.

 

georgian-elactions.jpgThe FINANCIAL — A Georgian billionaire who is the main rival to President Mikheil Saakashvili in the country's parliamentary election has refused to vote. 

 

People in Georgia are going to the polls for an election already billed as a “turning point” for the country, euronews reports. Tension is unexpectedly high, after the recent revelation of a prison abuse scandal shocked the nation and undermined the government’s image of committment to the rule of law.

The head of the Council of Europe delegation, Luca Volonte, said everything seemed to be running smoothly. “All the party leaders have agreed to abide by the results of the poll, one of the minimum requirements of good electoral practice,” he added,“and they have also agreed to be active participants in the next parliament.”

The pro-Western Mikhail Saakashvili came to power after the Rose Revolution of 2003 and weathered a five-day conflict with Russia in 2008.

But video footage of the abuse and rape of inmates at a Tblisi prison has undermined his projected image as a reformer who tackles corruption head-on.

The footage was shown on two TV channels hostile to Saakashvili, one of which is owned by his main rival Bidzina Ivanishvili.

The 56-year-old billionaire and his six-party Georgian Dream coalition hope to win over what polls suggest is a large number of swing voters.

 

As BBC reported, Bidzina Ivanishvili said the authorities had "already resorted to very many violations", as Georgia's 3.6 million voters went to the polls.

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It is seen as the biggest test of President Saakashvili's popularity since he came to power in 2003.

Mr Ivanishvili, Georgia's richest man, accused him of human rights abuses.

He described it as "something close to a democratic election" but accused Mr Saakashvili of "distorting" the constitution, and said that was why he would not vote. His wife, who was with him at the polling station, did cast her ballot.

Despite the flaws, Mr Ivanishvili said, "today for the first time in Georgian history the government will be changed through elections".

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

Mr Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia in the early 1990s, is now deemed legally entitled to vote, despite an earlier dispute about his citizenship. As BBC reported, he was stripped of his Georgian citizenship last year, but then a constitutional change was made which would allow him to vote as a French passport holder and EU citizen.

 

 

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