Tibilsi: Georgia votes in the second round of contested parliamentary polls Sunday, with the ruling Georgian Dream poised for a landslide victory after opposition parties alleged fraud in the first round.
The elections see the Georgian Dream, led from behind the scenes by billionaire ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, grappling with the United National Movement (UNM), founded by exiled former president Mikheil Saakashvili.
Sunday`s vote will decide -- on a first-past-the-post basis -- the fate of a third of parliamentary mandates in the 150-seat legislature.
Georgian Dream is expected to win in the majority of single-mandate constituencies and secure over 113 seats in the parliament -- the number that would allow the party to form a new cabinet and pass constitutional amendments.
Turnout was 19.3 percent at 0800 GMT, four hours after polls opened, the Central Election Commission said.
In the polls` first round held on October 8, Georgian Dream won with 48.68 percent of the vote in a proportional ballot, while Georgia`s main opposition force, UNM, came second with 27.11 percent of the vote.
For the first time in Georgia`s post-Soviet history, the first round also saw a small anti-Western party, the Alliance of Patriots, clearing the five-percent threshold needed to enter parliament.Georgia`s Western allies are watching closely to see if the strategic nation -- praised as a rare example of democracy in the former Soviet region -- can cement gains after its first transfer of power at the ballot box four years ago.
Almost all opposition parties cried foul, accusing the government of massive vote rigging during the first round -- a claim flatly rejected by the authorities. Western monitors said that the October 8 vote was competitive, though they noted isolated instances of violations and procedural problems.
Voting, which will end at 1600 GMT, is being monitored by international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Parliament, and NATO.
Politics is still dominated by Saakashvili and Ivanishvili even though neither holds an official position.
Tensions rose ahead of the vote in the ex-Soviet republic -- which fought a brief war with Russia in 2008 and seeks EU and NATO membership -- after violent incidents targeting candidates.
On October 5, a UNM lawmaker`s car exploded in central Tbilisi, injuring four passers-by and urging the party to accuse the authorities of "creating a climate of hatred in which opposition politicians are being attacked".
A few days earlier two men were injured when unknown assailants fired shots during a campaign rally held by an independent candidate in the central city of Gori.
The poisonous atmosphere around the polarised vote follows years of what the opposition sees as political witchhunts and retribution against Saakashvili and his team.
Saakashvili, a charismatic reformer who took over in the Rose Revolution of 2003, was forced out of the country after prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for abuse of power and now works as a regional governor in pro-Western Ukraine.
The crackdown on his allies has prompted concerns among Georgia`s Western allies that the country could backslide after its sole orderly transfer of power in 2012.