Voting is underway in the Georgian general election billed as a “turning point” for the country.
Tension is unexpectedly high, after the recent revelation of a prison inmate abuse scandal shocked the nation and undermined the government’s image of committment to root out corruption.
Subsequent protests have left President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement facing an unexpectedly tough battle. Grim video footage of inmates being beaten and raped has hit the party’s popularity.
The opposition bloc, Georgian Dream, led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili has moved to take advantage of the prisoner abuse scandal by describing the vote as “a choice between good and evil”.
The controversy has helped Ivanishvili make the case that Saakashvili has become an undemocratic leader who tramples rights and freedoms, and could help win over the large group of Georgians who summertime polls showed were undecided.
Although Saakashvili has promised to leave his post next year, he needs his party to win to avoid becoming a lame duck president, especially as constitutional changes will weaken the role of head of state.