Georgia poll puts economic revival under scrutiny
( Reuters ) - For the waitress working in a busy Tbilisi cafe a few days before Georgia votes in a presidential election, the economic revival under President Mikhail Saakashvili is not all it is made out to be.
Between serving plates of khachapuri, a warm cheese-filled flatbread, and bowls of the dumpling-like khinkali, 45-year-old Nani Chikovani paused to explain.
"Our family earns more money because our daughter has a job, but we pay more taxes and bills," she said. "We have the same amount of money at the end of each month, not more."
The West holds Saakashvili up as a model economic reformer in the South Caucasus -- a transport corridor between east and west -- where Georgia is at the centre of a power struggle between its ally United States and former overlord Russia.
Under Saakashvili, ex-Soviet Georgia has privatized former state companies, devised liberal economic rules and attracted large sums in foreign investment. Ordinary people have seen their incomes rise as the economy grows.
But support at home for Saakashvili, who swept to power in a peaceful 2003 revolution, has dropped as Georgians complain of elitism, corruption, an unfair legal system and an economic boom that has not delivered the benefits they hoped for.
Inflation has eaten into salaries and utility bills have soared as they realign with market prices.
Saakashvili is expected to win the January 5 election, largely because the opposition is divided. But commentators say voters will use the election to register disappointment with his rule.