International Press On The Georgian Elections: Alleged Violations Highlighted

By Mane Grigoryan
Brosse Street Journal
Wednesday, October 18 2006

At the beginning of October, the local self-governance elections and their results were the main subject being covered in the Georgian media. The international press also showed an interest and Georgia’s local elections were covered by a variety of foreign publications and news organizations.

Predictably, the Russian media was on hand and, also predictably, tended to use these elections as a platform for criticizing Georgia. Russian media coverage tended to focus on the complaints of the Georgian opposition as well as on any rumors of violations or irregularities in the voting process.

Itar Tass was quick to pick up on the announcement made by representatives from Georgia’s Labor, Republican and Conservative parties – which form the political opposition – about a number of alleged major violations in voting. The Georgian opposition claimed that large groups of voters had not been properly included on electoral lists, and that the electoral commissions at some of the polling stations did not seal the ballot boxes on time.

Itar Tass reported that: “The opposition said that, apart from this, activists of the ruling United National Movement did not cease their promotion campaign even on the day of voting. Leaders of the United National Movement said the opposition’s claims were over-exaggerated and were an attempt to blame the authorities, rather than those who did not vote for them, for their electoral defeat.”

The Russian news website writes that the Georgian opposition believes these elections to be absolutely absurd and, in their opinion, it is a way for the government to hide the catastrophic situation in the country’s economic sphere. The article presents the opinion of Irina Sarishvili, the leader of Georgian political union Imedi.

“Sarishvili said that elections are held in non-democratic conditions and that the opposition never had a chance of winning. She also said that the CEC [Central Election Committee] is a pawn of the government and that the courts are also controlled by the government,” the website reports.

Russian news agencies also sought out national minority representatives to comment on alleged irregularities. The majority of the violations were registered by precincts heavily populated by non-Georgians, a Regnum correspondent quotes the President of the National Assembly of Azerbaijanis of Georgia (NAAG) Dashgyn Gulmamedov as saying.

The Regnum article states: “Gulmamedov pointed out that his organization had appealed to ethnic Azerbaijanis in Georgia to boycott these presumably undemocratic elections and assigned over 300 observers to monitor the elections. According to Gulmamedov, the percentage of voter turnout in the Kvemo Kartli (Borchaly) region predominantly populated by Azeris was extremely low as only 10-11% of the region’s registered voters came out. Less than 2% of registered Azeri women in the rural areas voted. Voter turnout in Kakhetia is lower still. Most voting violations have been registered in the cities of Marneuli, Rustavi, and Gardabani. NAAG observers say violations were also registered in the Krtsanisi and Samgori districts of the Georgian capital Tbilisi.”

The popular Ukrainian English-language newspaper the Kyiv Post also covered the local election in Georgia. The newspaper writes that “Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili claimed victory in the municipal elections can be seen as a key test of his pro-Western government's popularity amid a spiraling confrontation with neighboring Russia. But the opposition accused him of seeking to falsify the results. Conservative Party leader Koba Davitashvili accused the government of dragging out the vote count in an effort to fix the results.
“Not even an hour had passed since the polling stations closed when President Saakashvili announced that his party had fared better than in past elections and had received a minimum of 70 percent of the vote … Saakashvili rejected charges of vote rigging,” the newspaper writes.

The Western media also took note of Georgia’s local elections. The Associated Press wrote that “Georgians voted Thursday in municipal elections that could serve as a bellwether for President Mikhail Saakashvili's pro-Western policies amid a deepening diplomatic crisis with Russia.
“The U.S.-educated Saakashvili faces an electorate increasingly disenchanted and impatient with the slow pace of economic reforms nearly three years after the Rose Revolution protests propelled him to power.

“Saakashvili praised Georgians for brisk turnout that saw more than 40 percent of the poor Caucasus Mountains nation's 3.2 million registered voters cast ballots, saying it was ‘not a typical election,’” AP wrote.

The election also received a brief but positive spin from the news agency Reuters as it posted exit poll results and commented that the victory of the National Movement party of the President of Georgia can be seen as an “answer to skeptics.”

There was not as much detailed coverage of the elections in the press of Georgia’s neighbors Armenia and Azarbaijan

The news website simply reported that Azerbaijani observers had taken part in the elections. According to the site, this was the first time ever that representatives from the Azerbaijani Embassy observed municipal elections in Georgia.

The news site mentioned that Georgia had held an election. The story mentions that a Georgian business consulting firm carried out an exit-poll and according to it, 56.4 percent of population of Tbilisi voted for the ruling National Movement.

Copyright © 2004, Brosse Street Journal.