Georgia election to decide 'Important and Crucial' question

Georgians head to the polls today in a hotly contested parliamentary election seen as a referendum on the nation's future: back the party of the one-time revolutionary hero, President Mikheil Saakashvili, or vote for his arch-enemy, one of the richest men in the world, who has promised democratic reform and better relations with Russia.

Mr Saakashvili is being challenged by Bidzina Ivanishvili, a Georgian oligarch who made his fortune in Russia and has united a motley collection of opposition parties in a coalition against the President. Mr Saakashvili has to step down next year, and with constitutional changes that will make the country a parliamentary republic about to take hold, today's vote will decide whether his United National Movement will form the new government. If Georgian Dream, Mr Ivanishvili's coalition, wins the majority of seats, he has vowed to become Prime Minister for a maximum of two years and implement a fairly vague programme of democratic reforms.

The campaign has been characterised by sharp accusations and hyperbole, with Mr Ivanishvili describing the President as a ruthless dictator cloaked in a thin façade of democratic rhetoric, while Mr Saakashvili has claimed his opponent is a Kremlin stooge looking to drag Georgia back to the 1990s, when it was riven with corruption and nepotism. With both sides declaring certain victory and presenting the consequences of defeat in apocalyptic terms, the aftermath of the vote could see prolonged arguments and demonstrations.

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