TBILISI, Oct. 27 (Xinhua) -- Georgians went to the polls Sunday to elect a successor to outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili who has been in power for 10 years.
The 2013 presidential election was proceeding in a calm atmosphere with no irregularities reported so far, according to the Georgian Central Election Commission (CEC).
Polling stations in the South Caucasus country opened at 8 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) and will close at 8 p.m. (1600 GMT).
Some 3.5 million eligible voters will cast their votes, according to the CEC.
Seven hours into the election ballot, the CEC reported a turnout rate of 32.05 percent, lower than the 45 percent turnout registered the same time for last October's legislative polls.
There is no minimum turnout-rate threshold for polls to be valid in the South Caucasus country.
Opinion polls have given Giorgi Margvelashvili, from the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia coalition, a comfortable lead in the race to become the country's fourth president since its independence in 1991.
Saakashvili has served two full terms and is prevented from contesting a third by the Georgian constitution.
A record 23 candidates are running this year, compared to only seven in the last presidential election, in 2008, and six in each of the previous four.
The CEC said 55 international and 57 local institutions have monitored the election. No irregularities have been reported so far.
Despite the record number of candidates this year, only three are considered serious contenders -- former first deputy prime minister and education minister Giorgi Margvelashvili, former parliament speaker Davit Bakradze, and former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze.
Sitting Georgian parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili lauded the country's presidential election Sunday, saying it marked a new era of peaceful transfer of power.
"In our state, this day will mark the beginning of implementing a new practice of removing the president from office peacefully, without clashes and confrontation," the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia coalition member said.
"This year, the situation has been relatively improved; today, we can vote without any problems or pressure; and this is a really great achievement of ours," he said.
He also said he believes the era of a problematic presidential rule had ended.
Georgia has held six presidential elections since independence in 1991.
Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the South Caucasus country's first elected president, was toppled by a coup d'etat, while its second, Eduard Shevardnadze, was ousted by violent protests that could have led to further bloodshed if he had not resigned.
Saakashvili, had offered to resign early to calm public fury over questionable parliamentary elections, but he won the snap election to be reinstated as the president.