Q&A: Parliamentary election in Georgia

Relations with Russia and human rights are key issues in Georgia's most closely contested parliamentary election in years.

Why does this election matter outside Georgia?

It could decide whether President Mikheil Saakashvili's uncompromising policy towards Russia, with which Georgia fought a brief war in 2008, will continue or whether there will be a warming in bilateral relations.

Surely Georgian presidential elections are the ones that really count?

A few years ago, that was the case. However, the biggest group in the new parliament will, for the first time, appoint the prime minister, who will have new, expanded powers, most of which are now wielded by the president.

Under constitutional amendments passed in 2010, this will happen in approximately one year's time, when Mr Saakashvili's second and final presidential term ends.

There has been speculation that he may resurface as prime minister with his powers largely intact, should his backers win the parliamentary election.

So who are the parties?

Mr Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM) party has dominated Georgian politics since he assumed the presidency in 2004.

It has made a name for itself as a strongly pro-Western force for modernising reform that backs integration with Nato and the EU. Economically, it calls itself libertarian but regularly pursues policies that imply a strong role for the state.

Its main rival is Georgian Dream, an opposition coalition led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. It brings together an array of ideologically diverse parties, and has benefited from greater resources and organisational capacity than past opposition movements that have taken on Mr Saakashvili.

Mr Ivanishvili has said he supports Georgia's Westward foreign policy and eventual membership of Nato and the EU, but some in his coalition disagree with this.

Several other parties are also contesting the election, with the Christian Democratic Movement and the Labour Party standing a good chance of winning a few seats.

Should we expect to see Mr Ivanishvili in the new parliament?

No because he is not running for a seat. President Saakashvili stripped him of Georgian citizenship in October 2011 after it emerged that he had become a citizen of France.

In June 2012, amendments were made to the electoral code to allow Mr Ivanishvili to stand but he says he will not make use of them, demanding full restoration of his Georgian citizenship.

Clean campaign?

Tense and deeply polarised, on the whole, with the main parties both essentially casting the poll as a choice between good and evil.

UNM sought to paint Georgian Dream as pro-Russian and highlighted anti-Western remarks by some of its members. President Saakashvili and his allies frequently suggested Georgian Dream was part of a Russian plot to undermine Georgia's unity and bring it back into the Kremlin's orbit.

Mr Ivanishvili dismissed such claims and adamantly denied charges of doing the Kremlin's bidding or having any links to the Russian authorities.

He and his party sought to portray Mr Saakashvili's government as a dictatorial regime that had brought the country to the brink of ruin. They also routinely complained about what they called unfair treatment and harassment by the authorities, pointing to numerous administrative and financial obstacles.

Mr Ivanishvili warned of protests if the poll was rigged, at one point even suggesting President Saakashvili might face Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi's fate in such a case.

When videos emerged late in the campaign showing inmates being tortured in a Tbilisi prison, protesters took to the streets and anti-government sentiment rose.

The authorities responded with a barrage of video clips to suggest a Georgian Dream victory would encourage organised crime.

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