'Serious violations'

However, Tina Khidasheli, one of the opposition's leaders, said there has been "many serious violations".

She said that the opposition had filmed people voting two or three times and that some ballot boxes had been tampered with by election officials.

"The authorities are trying to remove any legal basis for contesting the election," Khidasheli said.

She also claimed that election officials were refusing to register complaints made by opposition representatives at polling stations.

But the central election commission (CEC) on Saturday denied that there had been any problems.
  
"The elections are proceeding in a calm atmosphere without any serious violations," Irakli Porchkhidze, a spokesman for the CEC, said in televised comments.

Poll violations

Even ahead of polling day several candidates complained that the outcome had already been determined through a series of violations, including media bias and the use of state resources to support Saakashvili's bid.

"The political forces that are trying to discredit the election are
in fact discrediting Georgia"


David Bakradze, Saakashvili's spokesman
Gachechiladze, who heads a nine-party coalition which accuses Saakashvili of economic mismanagement, corruption and autocratic rule, said on Friday that he may not recognise the results.

"If these kinds of things continue, and I am 100 per cent sure that this is continuing, then we can't recognise [the election]."

David Bakradze, Saakashvili's spokesman, accused the opposition of inventing violations in order to justify protests if they lose.
  
"The opposition is saying there are mass violations but the absolute majority of these claims have been checked and not confirmed," hesaid.

"The political forces that are trying to discredit the election are in fact discrediting Georgia."

Western observation teams are in Georgia to ensure the vote is conducted fairly, and an independent Georgian election monitoring group, New Generation/New Initiative, has reported no major problems.


Police crackdown

The president called the election early in an effort to repair his reputation after he was widely criticised for ordering police and security forces to violently crack down on peaceful opposition protests in November.
   
Days after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, Saakashvili closed the main opposition broadcaster and imposed a week-long state of emergency.

Polls have indicated that Saakashvili is likely to win the seven-candidate race but it is unclear if he will gain the 50 per cent needed to avoid a second round run-off.

 

After a landslide election win four years ago after the so-called Rose revolution, Saakashvili introduced economic reforms, aimed for Nato membership and positioned Georgia as the main US ally in a region where Russia is competing for influence.

"Georgia is a great success story for this region," Saakashvili said after voting in Tbilisi. "Now it's up to the people of Georgia to decide whether this success will continue as it was going."