There's a rather 'lively' (in other words, acrimonious and polarised) discussion on the BBC News forum about the Georgian presidential elections.
What follows is the text of a piece I recorded for the BBC's From Our Own Correspondent about the campaign in the days preceding the polls:
In the provincial town of Bolnisi, a middle-aged man was waiting patiently for Mikhail Saakashvili to arrive for a campaign rally, holding a photograph which he hoped his hero would autograph for him.
He had also written a poem for Mr Saakashvili, and he offered to read it to me.
“Oh, Misha Saakashvili, the protector of the poor and miserable,” it began. “You are a rising moon, a piece of the Georgian sun! Oh God, give a long life to our hope, Misha Saakashvili!”
Other people at the rally were equally enthusiastic about the man running for re-election as Georgia’s president. “He’s the most democratic candidate. There is no man like him in the whole of Georgia,” one of them told me. Others welcomed his promises to cut unemployment and eradicate poverty.
But the following day, I heard some very different descriptions of Mr Saakashvili. He’s authoritarian, he’s corrupt, and he deceived us, insisted people at an opposition campaign rally in the capital.
“When we brought Saakashvili’s government to power, we had high hopes,” one woman recalled. “But we didn’t get democracy, we got fear and humiliation.”
An election campaign which effectively began during a state of emergency was always going to be somewhat unusual. But the political climate in Georgia is deeply polarised, and the battle for the presidency has become increasingly bitter, mistrustful and full of unpleasant surprises.
Mr Saakashvili called the snap elections in November, one day after he ordered riot police to break up opposition protests calling for his resignation.
Images of policemen firing tear gas and rubber bullets, and beating unarmed protesters with clubs, shocked people who believed Mr Saakashvili was a Western-style champion of democratic reform in the former Soviet Union.
Mr Saakashvili responded by saying that sections of the opposition had been planning to use the civil unrest to storm the Georgian parliament and overthrow the government. He said they’d been collaborating with spies from neighbouring Russia, which strongly opposes his pro-Western policies. He insisted there had been a genuine threat to the state.
During the election campaign itself, the accusations have become even more extreme and the alleged plots even murkier.
One of the candidates for the presidency was Badri Patarkatsishvili, a Georgian oligarch who founded a pro-opposition television station which was shut down for several weeks by the authorities after they broke up the protests.
He’s a sworn enemy of the government and has vowed to spend as many of his millions as it takes to oust Mr Saakashvili – although he currently lives in Britain and didn’t return to Georgia to campaign for the presidency because he said he was afraid of being arrested.
At the height of the election campaign, he released a secretly-recorded tape which he said showed the Georgian interior ministry had attempted to hire a Chechen warlord to murder him.
The Georgian authorities struck back quickly, releasing their own surveillance tapes which they said proved the businessman had offered a hundred-million dollar bribe to a senior policeman to help him stage a coup in the wake of the election.
Mr Patarkatsishvili denied he was plotting a coup, but admitted offering the bribe – it was an attempt, he explained, to stop the police using force against opposition demonstrators again.
This was followed by a surprise intervention from journalists at Mr Patarkatsishvili’s television station. They declared that both the government and the oligarch were using what they called “unacceptable methods” in their pursuit of victory, and said they were suspending all broadcasts in protest until Mr Patarkatsishvili sold his shares in the station. They said they wanted nothing to do with what they described as “dirty political games”.
It was another indication of how serious the struggle for power in Georgia had become. In the words of one Georgian commentator, this was no longer an election, but a high-stakes showdown. Others described it as a referendum on Mr Saakashvili’s authority – and it’s a contest he’s determined not to lose.
His campaign is better organised and far better funded than any of his challengers. On the streets of the capital, his face stares down from hundreds of huge billboard posters, while opposition candidates are comparatively invisible. On television, his paid advertising spots overwhelmingly outnumber those of his opponents.
There’s even a catchy campaign pop song with a high-budget promotional video, featuring a cast of thousands dancing and waving flags. Its title simply declares: “Misha is cool.”
The opposition is already crying foul, accusing Mr Saakashvili of misusing state resources to fund his campaign, and threatening to launch new protests. Government officials have denied this and raised fears that renewed civil unrest could signal a return to the chaos and instability which so badly damaged the country in the early 1990s.
Mr Saakashvili has said that today’s presidential elections represent a moment of truth for Georgia. But what happens on the streets in the days to come could prove to be equally crucial.