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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 January 2008, 12:52 GMT
Q&A: Georgian election
Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili called a snap presidential election for 5 January after huge opposition rallies in November resulted in violent unrest and a temporary state of emergency.

The man who came to power in 2003 - on the crest of the ex-Soviet republic's pro-democracy "Rose Revolution" - is seeking re-election in a contest he says is vital to ward off "foreign threats". He favours closer ties with the West.

His opponents charge him with presiding over economic mismanagement and corruption and adopting authoritarian ways, while Georgia's relations with Russia have soured under his rule.

Along with the presidential vote, Georgians are being asked to vote on whether they should join Nato, and whether they should have a parliamentary election in the spring of 2008.

Why all the trouble?

Mr Saakashvili came to power promising to root out corruption and introduce sweeping market reforms, but poverty remains widespread. His leadership style is seen by many as arrogant, and the police's use of tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets against the demonstrators in November alienated some of his one-time supporters. He accused Russian "special services" of stirring up trouble.

Who won?

According to exit polls, Mr Saakashvili won just over 50% of the vote, which would be just enough to avoid a run off. But about 20% of people asked refused to say which way they had voted, so the results are far from certain. Mr Saakashvili's closest rival was Levan Gachechiladze, a wine businessman and independent MP chosen by the main opposition bloc as their candidate. Exit polls gave him 28% of the vote.

What happens if nobody gets more than 50% of the vote?

There will be a second round of voting, between the two rivals, in two weeks time.

Soundbites?

  • Mikhail Saakashvili: "I need your unequivocal mandate to tackle all the foreign threats."
  • Levan Gachechiladze: "I do not think it is in the interests of the West to accept... Saakashvili through a rigged vote."
  • Badri Patarkatsishvili: "Mr Saakashvili's regime has completely discredited itself in the eyes of the Georgian people."

Has it been a fair campaign?

Election observers from the OSCE said the poll had been consistent with most international democratic standards, but significant challenges needed to be addressed. But opposition candidates complained that Mr Saakashvili was given unfair media exposure and has used his office to promote his campaign.

Why does Georgia matter?

Georgia's proximity to Iraq, Iran and Turkey makes it strategically important. A key oil export pipeline from the Caspian Sea also runs through it. The West regards Georgia as a key test of Russia's readiness to respect other ex-Soviet states' independence, while Moscow is sensitive to any potential source of instability along its border in the Caucasus.

SEE ALSO
Country profile: Georgia
27 Nov 07 |  Country profiles
Georgia to hold early elections
08 Nov 07 |  Europe
Profile: Mikhail Saakashvili
08 Nov 07 |  Europe

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