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The BBC's Robert Parsons
"It helps that no one else seems to be campaigning"
 real 28k

Friday, 7 April, 2000, 21:20 GMT 22:20 UK
Shevardnadze tipped for re-election
A Georgian beauty salon displays a Shevardnadze election poster
Shevardnadze poster adorns Georgian beauty salon
By BBC Eurasia analyst Malcolm Haslett

On Sunday voters in the Black Sea republic of Georgia will go to the polls to elect a new president - or re-elect the old one.

Eduard Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister, has been in charge in this volatile country since 1992, but he still has plenty of enemies, and the campaign has been marked by accusations of foul play.

Eduard Shevardnadze
1928: born
1972-1985: Georgian Party boss
1985-1991: Soviet foreign minister
1992-2000: Georgian head of state
The silver-haired leader rules a country whose economic prosperity and political unity are still precarious.

In at least two regions there will be no voting because they are controlled by ethnic minorities that want to break away from Georgian rule.

These are Abkhazia in the north-west along the Black Sea coast, and South Ossetia, on the southern slopes of the Caucasus mountains.

Rivals

A third region, Adjaria, in the south-west of the country, is currently providing a different kind of challenge to Mr Shevardnadze.

Jumber Patiashvili on the campaign trail
Jumber Patiashvili on the campaign trail
Its authoritarian leader, Aslan Abashidze, is one of his chief rivals in this election.

Mr Abashidze joined with other opposition groups in November's parliamentary election to form the "Revival of Georgia" bloc which became the main opposition party in parliament with 25% of the vote.

Another leading member of Revival of Georgia is also standing - a former Georgian Communist Party boss from the Soviet era, Jumber Patiashvili.

Mr Patiashvili has accused Mr Shevardnadze of ignoring the needs of the poor.

Mr Shevardnadze has made much of the fact that it was he who restored order and stability to Georgia in the early 1990s after the turbulent rule of Georgia's first elected president, the late Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

Mr Shevardnadze also argues that he has fought to restore national unity - although he has been criticised by some ethnic Georgian refugees from Abkhazia for not doing enough to put an end to Abkhaz separatism.

Strong position

There are four other candidates who seem to have little chance of making an impression.

With Mr Patiashvili and Mr Abashidze dividing the opposition vote between them, Mr Shevardnadze appears to be in a strong position.

There has been some speculation that Mr Abashidze might withdraw his candidacy at the last moment, in a show of defiance against Mr Shevardnadze's plans to tighten Tbilisi's control over the regions.

The president flew personally to Adjaria to try to persuade his opponent to stay in the race.

Whatever happens, Tbilisi's relations with its restless provinces are sure to remain one of the central issues in Georgian politics.

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07 Apr 00 | Media reports
Shevardnadze's campaign pledges
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