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Details Emerge Of Shortcomings In Georgian Municipal Elections

A voter casts her ballot in Tbilisi on May 30.
A voter casts her ballot in Tbilisi on May 30.
The preliminary assessment of the May 30 Georgian municipal elections released by the combined OSCE/EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) the following day registered "deficiencies in the legal framework, its implementation, an uneven playing field, and isolated cases of election-day fraud," including "systemic irregularities on election particular in Kakheti, Samtskhe-Javakheti, and Shida Kartli."

But the chief of the EOM, Ambassador Audrey Glover, categorically refused to state explicitly whether or not the mission considered the elections free and fair. She told journalists on May 31 that they should read the preliminary assessment carefully and draw their own conclusions.

Reports released over the past few days by Georgian NGOs that independently monitored the vote shed additional light on the nature and extent of the irregularities and violations. Before the polls had even closed on May 30, Alexandra Kalatozishvili of the NGO Multi-National Georgia described to journalists infringements registered by its 320 observers, of whom 140 were deployed in Samtskhe-Djavakheti (which has a majority Armenian population) and the remaining 180 in the predominantly Azerbaijani-populated region of Kvemo Kartli.

The violations in question included isolated instances of attempted multiple voting; allowing persons to vote without first providing proof of their identity; and, in the Azerbaijani-populated district of Marneuli, an election official threatened with arrest and physical violence a representative of the opposition Alliance for Georgia. Kalatozishvili said her NGO had submitted more than 40 separate formal complaints to local election commissions.

Oge Borgkreving of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee similarly told Caucasus Knot on June 2 that he witnessed "numerous violations" in Samtskhe-Djavakheti. Borgkreving said that during the May 2008 parliamentary elections, greater pressure was exerted on voters, and armed men were present at polling stations. By contrast, during the May 30 municipal vote, there was no such overt intimidation of voters, although he witnessed "many" cases of people at polling stations following voters into the polling booth and apparently dictating to them who to vote for.

Borgkreving said that in his opinion, the pressure on opposition candidates and their representatives in Samtskhe-Djavakheti had "a considerable effect" on the outcome of the vote. He said he would not categorize the vote as free and fair.

Armenian NGOs had expressed concern during the run-up to the election that Armenian voters were at a disadvantage. The association of Tbilisi Armenians, which represents the capital's 86,000-strong Armenian community, released a statement on May 21 noting that none of the 14 political parties and three blocs competing in the election had included any Armenians high enough up in their lists of candidates to stand any chance of being elected in Tbilisi, while President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement (EEM) did not include any Armenians at all. The municipal elections are held under a mixed proportional-majoritarian system, with a 5 percent threshold (4 percent in Tbilisi) to qualify for representation.

Shirak Torosian, a member of the Armenian parliament who for years has monitored closely the situation in Samtskhe-Djavakheti, predicted at a press conference in Yerevan in late May that in the event of a fair ballot, the opposition National Council headed by former Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli would win. Torosian explained that the National Council stands up for the rights of the region's Armenian population and included a number of respected local Armenians on its lists of candidates for elections to local councils in Samtskhe-Djavakheti.

In the event, in the three administrative districts (Akhaltsikhe, Ninotsminda and Akhalkalaki) that comprise Samtskhe-Djavakheti, the United National Movement polled 70.41 percent, 74.93 percent, and 82.95 percent respectively, while the National Council received only 5.36 percent, 2.94 percent, and 4.03 percent.

Lawyer Eka Beselia, who heads an NGO that represents persons illegally detained or imprisoned, said on June 3 that persons in pre-trial detention were denied the right to cast ballots, although legally they are entitled to do so.

The same day, the NGO Right and Freedom, which conducted its own monitoring of the voting on May 30, claimed that at the special polling stations for military personnel, servicemen were forced to cast ballots. The turnout at those polling stations was given as 95-100 percent, compared with 49 percent for the country as a whole and 46.64 percent in Tbilisi. The NGO further claimed that commanding officers forced their subordinates to vote for the EEM.

There has been no reaction to date to those allegations from either the Defense or the Interior ministries.

Meanwhile, political expert Soso Tsiskareishvili noted the discrepancy in voting patterns between the pre-term presidential election in January 2008, when opposition challenger Levan Gachechiladze defeated incumbent President Saakashvili in Tbilisi, and the May 30 municipal elections, in which the EEM's candidate, incumbent Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava won reelection with over 55 percent of the vote.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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