TBILISI, Oct 30 (Reuters) – Georgia holds a parliamentary election on Saturday in which the ruling Georgian Dream party faces a challenge from opposition parties led by the United National Movement, which vowed not to form a coalition with the ruling party after the election.
Here are some facts about Georgia and the election.
* Georgia is a nation of 3.7 million people in the South Caucasus. It has a shoreline on the Black Sea and borders Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey. It is mostly Orthodox Christian.
* Georgia is one of 15 former republics of the Soviet Union that gained independence in 1991. The Soviet collapse ended nearly two centuries of almost continuous dominance of Georgia by Russia and the Soviet Union.
* Georgia has aligned itself with the West under former President Mikheil Saakashvili, seeking closer integration with NATO and the European Union and maintaining strong ties with the United States. The government is still committed to joining NATO and the EU, but says it wants better ties with Russia.
* Tension with Russia erupted into a five-day war in August 2008. Russian troops drove Georgian forces out of the breakaway South Ossetia region and penetrated deep into Georgia before withdrawing.
* Russia recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another Moscow-backed breakaway region, as independent nations after the war. Both had broken from central Georgian government control in conflicts in the early 1990s.
* Georgia withdrew from the Commonwealth of Independent States, a group of 11 former Soviet republics seen as dominated by Moscow, after the 2008 war.
* Georgia is a route for pipelines that carry oil and gas from the Caspian Sea area towards Europe via Turkey, bypassing Russia.
* Georgia’s economy expanded by 5.2% in 2019, up from 4.8% in 2018. This year the government had expected it to grow by 4.5% before the coronavirus pandemic, but it is now forecast to contract by 4%.
* Georgia has reported 37,263 cases of the virus and 285 deaths.
* Sixty-six political parties are contesting the parliamentary election. The main contenders are Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG) – the ruling party founded by billionaire former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili – and United National Movement (UNM), founded by former president Mikheil Saakashvili.
UNM lost a national election to a Georgian Dream coalition in October 2012. Saakashvili’s presidential term ended in November 2013. Ivanishvili stepped down as a prime minister in 2013. He does not occupy any government posts and is head of Georgian Dream, but critics accuse him in governing the country behind the scenes.
* Of the 150 seats in the single-chamber parliament, 120 will be filled through voting by party lists, in which the voter casts a ballot for a party which presents a list of candidates. The other 30 seats will be filled through voting for individual candidates in electoral districts.
In party-list voting, a party needs to win at least 1% of the vote to gain representation in parliament. In the individual races, the candidate with the most votes, and no less than 50% of total votes, wins a seat in the first round.
* A majority of polls suggest Georgian Dream is leading, but it’s not clear whether it will be able to get more than 40% of the votes needed to form a single-party government.
* Apart from UNM, three other opposition parties led by former UNM members are expected to win seats: European Georgia, Girchi, and Giorgi Vashadze–Strategy Agmashenebeli. Lelo for Georgia, led by a former banker, and the Labour Party, are also expected to get into parliament.
* Polls open at 8 a.m. (0400 GMT) and close at 8 p.m. (1600 GMT) at more than 3,600 polling stations across the country There are 3.5 million eligible voters.
* The election will be monitored by local and limited number of international observers due to pandemic concerns.
* Four separate exit polls will be conducted on election day, commissioned by private television channels.
* First preliminary results are expected to be announced by the Central Election Commission early on Sunday. (Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Giles Elgood)