World Bulletin / News Desk
Georgia votes in the second round of contested parliamentary polls Sunday, with the ruling Georgian Dream poised for a landslide victory after opposition parties alleged fraud in the first round.
Led from behind the scenes by billionaire ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgian Dream is running against the main opposition United National Movement (UNM), founded by exiled former president Mikheil Saakashvili.
Sunday's vote, which works on a first-past-the-post basis, will decide the fate of a third of the mandates in the 150-seat legislature.
In the first round, which was held on October 8, Georgian Dream won 48.68 percent of the vote in a proportional ballot, while UNM came second with 27.11 percent.
For the first time in Georgia's post-Soviet history, the first round also saw a small anti-Western party, the Alliance of Patriots, clearing the five-percent threshold needed to enter parliament.
According to the first round result, Georgian Dream will take 67 seats, UNM 27 seats, and Alliance of Patriots six seats in the new parliament.
With the remaining 50 seats up for grabs in Sunday's runoff, Georgian Dream was expected to win almost all of them.
Should the party win at least 113 seats, as expected, it would be able to form a new cabinet and pass constitutional amendments.
By 1300 GMT, nine hours into voting, turnout was nearly 31 percent, the Central Election Commission said.
Georgia's Western allies are watching closely to see if the strategic nation -- praised as a rare example of democracy in the former Soviet region -- can cement gains after its first transfer of power at the ballot box four years ago.
Following the first round ballot earlier this month, almost all opposition parties cried foul, accusing the government of massive vote rigging -- a claim flatly rejected by the authorities.
Western monitors said the ballot was competitive, while noting isolated instances of violations and procedural problems.
The vote, which will end at 1600 GMT, is being monitored by international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Parliament and NATO.
Politics is still dominated by Saakashvili and Ivanishvili even though neither holds an official position.
Ahead of the vote, tensions rose in the ex-Soviet republic -- which fought a brief war with Russia in 2008 and seeks EU and NATO membership -- after several violent incidents targeting candidates.
On October 5, a UNM lawmaker's car exploded in central Tbilisi, injuring four passers-by, prompting the party to accuse the authorities of "creating a climate of hatred in which opposition politicians are being attacked".
A few days earlier, two men were injured when unknown assailants fired shots during a campaign rally by an independent candidate in the central city of Gori.
The poisonous atmosphere around the polarised vote follows years of what the opposition sees as political witchhunts and retribution against Saakashvili and his team.
Saakashvili, a charismatic reformer who took over in the Rose Revolution of 2003, was forced out of the country in 2013 after prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for abuse of power.
He now works as a regional governor in pro-Western Ukraine.
The crackdown on his allies has prompted concerns among Georgia's Western allies that the country could backslide after its sole orderly transfer of power in 2012.
Last Mod: 30 Ekim 2016, 18:12