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Caucasus Report: February 4, 2000

4 February 2000, Volume 3, Number 5

Georgian Parliament Factions Fail To Agree On Amendments To Election Law. Over the past week, an interfactional working group within the Georgian parliament has sought, but failed, to reach a consensus on amending the country's election law. That search was precipitated by an ultimatum issued last month by the opposition "Revival" faction, to which 58 of the 225 parliament deputies belong. Arguing that the existing legislation is anti-democratic, anti-constitutional, and violates international law, the "Revival" faction warned in mid-January that it will call for a boycott of the presidential election scheduled for 9 April unless its proposed amendments to the election law are adopted. That poll will not be considered valid unless 50 percent of the country's registered voters, plus one, cast their ballots.

The "Revival" ultimatum and the faction's criticism of the existing election law amendments are merely the latest incidents in a war of words between "Revival" and the Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK)--the majority faction in the outgoing parliament--that overshadowed the runup to last October's parliamentary poll. Both sides accused the other, first, of seeking to manipulate the campaign to their advantage, and second, of falsifying the outcome of the poll in the electoral districts they controlled. ("Revival"'s territorial base is the autonomous Republic of Adjaria, on the Black Sea coast bordering Turkey.) Not only "Revival," but several other opposition parties which failed to surmount the 7 percent minimum barrier to gain representation in the new parliament have refused to acknowledge the validity of the official results, which gave the SMK an absolute majority with a total of 130 seats.

The amendments proposed by "Revival" to the existing law, and supported by several opposition parties not represented in the new parliament, addressed the composition of the Central Electoral Commission and suggested safeguards that would preclude procedural violations and falsification of the poll results. But those proposed changes failed to win the approval of the third-largest parliament faction, "Industry Will Save Georgia," aka the "manufacturers." That 15-person faction, which includes veteran legislator Vakhtang Khmaladze (who contributed to the drafting off the 1990 and 1992 election laws), tabled its own proposed amendments to 41 articles of the existing law. That move prompted the creation last week of the inter-faction working group, charged with producing a version that would satisfy all parties. Of the group's 13 members, seven represent the SMK.

The working group reached agreement on 40 of the 41 proposed amendments, but is still deadlocked over the optimum composition of the Central Electoral Commission. At present, that body is composed of 17 members, of whom five are nominated by the parliament majority faction, five by the president, five by other political parties represented in parliament, and one each by the republics of Adjaria and Abkhazia. Opposition parties object that this model gives the SMK control over a body that should be non-partisan. According to Khmaladze, "Revival" proposed that 2/3 of the CEC's members should be opposition representatives, while the "manufacturers" originally suggested that all parties that polled over 1 percent of the vote should be equally represented on the CEC.

When the SMK majority on the working group rejected both those proposals, on 2 February "Revival" and the "manufacturers" came up with a joint proposal that the number of CEC members be reduced to eight, of whom seven would represent factions that polled over 1 percent of the vote in last year's parliamentary elections, and the eighth - the commission's chairman - would be chosen by all parliament deputies. But the SMK rejected that model too, whereupon Khmaladze proposed that six CEC members should represent parties that polled over 1 percent of the vote, five should be chosen by the parliament (three by the majority faction and two by the minority) and one each by the two autonomous formations. The SMK's refusal to consider this latest compromise suggestion prompted two "Revival" members of the working group to storm out of the session in protest. One of them subsequently accused the working group's chairman, Vitalii Kharadze, of deliberately delaying a compromise agreement, while the other announced that he would take no further part in what he termed "a circus performance."

RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau considers the chances of the two sides reaching a compromise over the composition of the CEC to be minimal, in which case the disputed article of the Election Law will remain unchanged. But in that case the SMK may agree to minor concessions, such as unspecified reductions in the powers of the CEC, RFE/RL quoted Kharadze as saying. (Liz Fuller)

New Allegations Of Corruption Within Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry. In its self-appointed role as corruption watch-dog, the Azerbaijani newspaper "Ayna/Zerkalo" on 11 January published a new report on financial abuse within the Defense Ministry. The article listed cases in which the ministry purchased for inflated sums from front companies food supplies for the armed forces that were not fit for human consumption. It also described how a dubious company named Flamingo in 1996-1997 misappropriated millions of dollars earmarked to settle the Defense Ministry's debts for energy and electricity supplies.

The new revelations elicited numerous written and telephone responses from "Ayna/Zerkalo" readers adding new details to the paper's archive of incriminating information. The paper claimed in a subsequent issue (14 January) that Defense Minister Safar Abiev convened a special emergency meeting of his staff to discuss the 11 January article. "Ayna/Zerkalo" also quoted from a letter it had received from a retired army lieutenant-colonel expressing his concern that the findings of a commission set up last summer to investigate earlier allegations of corruption within the Defense Ministry have not yet been made public (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 34, 26 August 1999). (Liz Fuller)

A Brief (Russian) History of (Chechen) Time. Since last October, Russian military officials have offered successive prognoses of the likely date by which the "anti-terrorist" campaign in Chechnya will be successfully concluded, or by which federal forces will take complete control of Grozny. As will be clear from the appended chronology, most of these predictions have been made only to be quickly revised.

27 January. The commander of the Moscow Oblast Interior Ministry Forces, Colonel-General Arkadii Baskaev, said that "the taking of Grozny and the operation in the south of Chechnya will in any event be ended in February, although the guerrillas are hoping for a repeat of the events of 1996 when military operations in the republic were suspended." ("Nezavisimaya gazeta," 28 January).

19 January. Deputy commander of the combined Russian forces in Chechnya Lieutenant-General Gennadii Troshev predicted that the fighting in Chechnya will end by 26 February, one month prior to the Russian presidential election (AP).

13 January. Former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov predicted that "we can establish full control of Grozny in one or two days" (ITAR-TASS).

6 January. Nikolai Koshman, who is the Russian government representative to Chechnya, told journalists in Moscow that "the main hostilities" in Chechnya will end by late January or mid-February, when the mountainous southern districts of Vedeno, Shatoi, and Itum-Kale will be brought under Russian control (ITAR-TASS).

28 December. Manilov said that the backbone of the Chechen resistance will very probably be broken by New Year, but an additional 2-3 months will be required to liquidate "isolated groups of terrrorists" (ITAR-TASS).

22 December. The commander of the federal forces in the North Caucasus, Colonel General Viktor Kazantsev, said that Russian forces hope to take control of the mountainous areas of southern Chechnya "in the next two-three weeks" (ITAR-TASS).

16 December. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the operation in Chechnya will be completed "in the near future" (ITAR-TASS).

15 December. Manilov predicted the successful liberation of Grozny within "a matter of days," but added that it will take two-three months, including December, to eliminate all Chechen military formations (Interfax).

13 December. Koshman predicted that Grozny will be captured within one week or 10 days at most (Interfax).

1 December. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told journalists in Moscow that the "anti-terrorist" operation in Chechnya will be over within three months (Interfax).

11 November. Defense Minister Sergeev said in Moscow there is a chance that the war in Chechnya may be over by the end of the year (Interfax ).

One of the reasons for Moscow's over-optimism, as Russian First Deputy Chief of General Staff Colonel General Valerii Manilov admitted on 28 January, has been faulty intelligence. Manilov said that prior to the New Year, Moscow was operating on "insufficient and even fallacious" intelligence and reconnaissance reports that estimated the number of Chechen fighters in Grozny at no more than 1,500. But even at that time, he said, "large numbers" of fighters were converging on the capital from the mountains in southern Chechnya. He estimated the present Chechen strength at some 3,000 in Grozny and a further 6,000-8,000 fighters in the south, but added that those figures are subject to constant change.

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, however, on 30 January cited considerably lower figures. He gave the total number of Chechen fighters as 4,000, of whom, he said, 1,500 were in Grozny. (Liz Fuller)

A Landmark Football Match. On 29 January, the upper echelons of the leaderships of the North Caucasus republics of North Ossetia and Ingushetia took to the football field in Vladikavkaz for a friendly match, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 2 February. It was the first sporting engagement between teams from the two republics since the fighting in North Ossetia's Prigorodnyi raion in the fall of 1992 in which hundreds of Ingush were killed and thousands more forced to flee their homes. As North Ossetian team captain, Premier Taimuraz Mamsurov, remarked at halftime to his Ingush counterpart, President Ruslan Aushev (who scored the first goal three minutes into the first half): "It's about time we all agreed that the only admissible battlefields for citizens of Russia [Rossiyane] are playing fields." The final score is not known. (Liz Fuller)

Quotations Of The Week. "At one point the authorities gave me the Heroine-Mother medal for giving birth to so many children. Now they are demanding that I starve them to death." -- A Chechen mother of 13 children, speaking to AP in southeastern Chechnya.

"I do not want to spend another five years in prison." --Former Georgian Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani, sentenced in 1995 for leading a spontaneous campaign with the aim of restoring Georgian control over Abkhazia by force. Quoted by Caucasus Press, 31 January.