Nine years ago, firebrand reformer Mikhail Saakashvili rode the Republic of Georgia's nonviolent Rose revolution to power. Harnessing popular discontent with the long and often corrupt rule of Eduard Shevardnadze, Saakashvili came into office on a wave of optimism about this former Soviet republic's future.
Today, Georgians head to the polls to elect a new parliament. And with the economy slumping and a new prison torture scandal shocking the public, Saakashvili's party is facing an electorate that seems eager to look elsewhere for another fresh start.
The face of that newly energised opposition is billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his money in Russia. Last year Ivanishvili was stripped of his Georgian citizenship, but a constitutional change has allowed him to participate in the elections as an EU citizen. His Georgian Dream coalition brought 100,000 supporters into the streets of Tbilisi over the weekend in a real show of strength for the usually fractured opposition.
Saakashvili's government dismisses Ivanishvili as a political dilettante with eccentric tastes, and has played on the potent fear that he would allow Russia to dominate Georgia. But popular disillusionment with the hero of the Rose revolution may prove stronger than fears of Moscow. The winners of Monday's elections will inherit enhanced parliamentary powers, like the majority party having the right to appoint the country's next prime minister.
Read more: This New York Times backgrounder shows why this tiny country at the hinge of Europe and Russia is significant to both regions.
Sources: BBC, Christian Science Monitor, Guardian, Global Post, AP, New York Times