The former Soviet republic of Georgia is preparing to choose a President under the watchful eyes of nearly 500 Western electoral observers.
The incumbent, Mikhail Saakashvili, called the vote early, partly as a compromise, after shocking his Western allies in November by forcing opposition supporters off the streets with riot police, tear-gas and rubber-bullets. His so-called “Rose Revolution” in 2003 has brought some economic benefits, and a flood of foreign investment.
But he has also been accused of silencing critics, and the independent media. One of his main rivals is a 43-year-old businessman, Levan Gachechiladze. Some analysts say Saakashvili will benefit from the opposition’s failure to unite behind a single candidate.
Others believe the sitting president is finished, having produced an economic boom which has not delivered the benefits ordinary people hoped for. Whatever the result, the opposition have promised massive street demonstrations, if the vote is deemed fraudulent.