The Republic of Georgia holds a parliamentary election Wednesday amid concerns of continued electoral irregularities and low public trust in the process. Correspondent Peter Fedynsky is following the situation in the republic from VOA's Moscow Bureau.
Georgia's ruling United National Movement is expected to win a plurality, if not outright majority in the country's 150-seat parliament. But Georgian voters are highly polarized and a substantial percentage of them do not trust the electoral process.
Much of the mistrust stems from a violent crackdown in November against protesters opposed to President Mikhail Saakashvili. His opponents accuse him of arrogance and authoritarian rule.
A crisis following the anti-government demonstrations prompted Mr. Saakashvili to call early presidential elections for January and also an earlier parliamentary vote. He won the January election, but international observers say the process was flawed.
Independent political observer Ramaz Sakvarelidze told VOA that electoral reforms since the presidential vote have not been significant. Sakvarelidze says the opposition continues to accuse officials of election irregularities, such as padding voter lists.
"The opposition has provided many examples of non-existent apartment buildings entered into election lists and also of people who have died, but are still on election rolls," Sakvarelidze said.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe recently issued a report that notes opposition concerns about the legitimacy of voter lists. And the OSCE notes media bias, vote buying, and abuse of public resources in favor of the party in power.
In addition, the observer group says it has confirmed several allegations of voter intimidation, despite statements by President Saakashvili and the Interior Ministry calling for public officials not to interfere in the election process.
The ministry's spokesman, Shota Utiashvili told VOA there have been no arrests for violations of election laws.
"I think," said Utiashvili, "that the Interior Ministry has opened several-dozen criminal cases and investigations of electoral irregularities are underway. He adds, however, that such cases always depend on secondary factors - if somebody, for example, was hit or kidnapped, but as far as the spokesman is aware, no serious charges have been presented to the Ministry.
Hundreds of international observers will be monitoring Wednesday's election in Georgia, which has an interest in improving its damaged democratic credentials to advance its effort to join Western organizations such as NATO.
Political observers say there are few policy differences between President Saakashvili, the ruling party and the opposition. As observer Ramaz Sakvarelidze puts it, no Georgian opposes a better economy and all favor closer ties with NATO and the West. The main issue, he says, revolves around allegations of corruption and which side can govern most honestly.
A public opinion poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a U.S. firm that works for the ruling party, shows the United National Movement has the support of about 44 percent of the electorate. The United Opposition Council leads eight fractured opposition parties with 12 percent.