Voters in the Georgian breakaway republic of Abkhazia have gone to the polls to select a successor to President Vladislav Ardzinba.

Five candidates are on the ballot Sunday, with Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba considered the leading contender. Abkhaz power company chief Sergei Bagapsh is thought to be his most serious opponent.

Both candidates say they will maintain the region's political independence.

Russia's Interfax news agency reports that a late afternoon exit poll indicates Mr. Khajimba has won 56 percent of the vote. That total would avoid a second round run-off.

Abkhazia declared itself independent of Georgia in 1993, after a two year civil war, and it has been led by Mr. Ardzinba ever since.

The Georgian government says the election lacks legitimacy, but has promised not to interfere.