GEORGIA ELECTIONS.jpg
A woman passes in front of election posters of the candidates Beka Odisharia and Ketevan Mamulashvili of 'Georgian Dream' coalition in Tbilisi, Georgia, 06 October 2016.
Photograph: EPA/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE

Voters are heading to polling stations around the country of Georgia on Saturday to elect all 150 members of their unicameral parliament.

"I do expect it will be free and fair in keeping with the last two major elections in Georgia," former US ambassador Kenneth Yalowitz told dpa.

The race is expected to be close between the country's two main political parties, the ruling Georgian Dream and the largest opposition party, the United National Movement.

Georgian Dream has capitalized on a comprehensive approach to regional ties, seeking integration with the European Union and at the same time maintaining a pragmatic relationship with the republic's former Soviet ruler, Moscow.

The United National Movement also wants closer ties with the EU, but has been much more critical of Russia. The party was founded by former president Mikheil Saakashvili, who fought a disastrous five-day war against Russia in 2008.

"I think Georgia Dream will win, but there are still many undecideds. The United National Movement will do well but come in second," said Yalowitz, who was ambassador to Georgia from 1998 to 2001 and is now a global policy fellow at the Wilson Center think tank based in Washington.

The run-up to the elections has been contentious. Last month two members of minor opposition parties got into a fistfight during a televised debate, and this week a lawmaker with the United National Movement survived a car-bombing in the nation's capital.

"In spite of the pre-election violence, I do expect the elections to largely comply with European norms and requirements," said Simon Saradzhyan, an international affairs analyst at Harvard's Belfer Center.

"The current Georgian authorities are determined to pursue further integration into the EU, and any significant deviation from standards would constitute a setback in that campaign," Saradzhyan told dpa.

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