David Bakradze (C), leader of the largest opposition party United National Movement, accompanied by his daughters, casts a ballot during parliamentary elections in Tbilisi, Georgia, October 8, 2016. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
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Georgians began voting Saturday in bitterly contested parliamentary polls that have sparked fears of political instability in the Caucasus nation, with two pro-Western parties tied after a fraught campaign.The knife-edge elections see the ruling Georgian Dream party, led from behind the scenes by billionaire ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, grappling with the United National Movement (UNM), founded by exiled former president Mikheil Saakashvili.Georgia's Western allies will be 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.While the two main parties remain firmly committed to Georgia's bid for membership in the European Union and NATO, for the first time in decades the vote may see one of several small pro-Russian parties make it to the parliament.
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