The general election is a crucial test both for the President and Georgian democracy. Favoured by the West, Michael Saakashvilli is still trying to repair his tarnished image. In power since 2004, Saakashvilli’s United National Movement is promising to revive the economy, tackle poverty, corruption and unemployment and join NATO and the EU.
But after four years disatisfaction has begun to set in. It is a feeling the opposition has been quick to exploit, claiming Saakashvilli is corrupt and has eroded freedom of speech.
Swept to power by the so-called Rose Revolution, Saakashvilli’s honeymoon period eventually came to an end.
He called a snap election for January and was re-elected outright although the opposition denounced it as rigged.
Saakashvilli had been virtually forced to call the early poll after demonstrations against his government the previous November. He declared a state of emergency and sent in the riot police to almost universal condemnation.
Relations between Russia and Georgia deteriorated too, reaching a new low when Moscow announced it planned to strengthen links with Georgia’s two pro-Russian separatist regions – Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
In April Russia sent in an extra 500 soldiers, or peacekeepers, claiming Georgia was massing troops on the border in preparation for an offensive.
Leaders of the two areas rejected a power-sharing deal by Tbilisi, saying they would accept nothing less than full independence.
Tensions between Russia and the former Soviet republic were ratcheted up still further by several incidents involving unmanned spy planes.
Georgia’s aim to join NATO has angered the Russians and is a constant thorn in the side of reconciliation efforts.