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Brosse Street Journal » Elections:

Despite Multilingual Ballots an Information Vacuum Persists

By Sevinj Huseynzade - Marneuli
Brosse Street Journal
Sunday, October 15 2006
Print article  |  Mail article   

Following the recommendation of the OSCE, Georgia published voting lists in three languages this year: Georgian, Azeri and Armenian.

The Georgian Central Election Committee (CEC) reported two days before the election that it had already printed 5 million ballots, including 350.000 in the Azeri and in Armenian languages. These ballots are supposed to be delivered to voting precincts in the Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti regions where these ethnic groups make up a significant percentage of the population.

Before the elections, Tea Khoperiya, the CEC’s press secretary, said that 84.950 Azeri language ballots were scheduled to be sent to Marneuli, a multiethnic town in southern Georgia, near the country’s borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan. About 85% of Marneuli’s population is of Azeri origin.

According to the Regional Election Committee of Marneuli, approximately 99.000 persons are registered to vote for the local Sakrebulos: 83.000 from regions around the city and 16.000 from Marneuli itself.

65 regional candidates participated in the local government elections and nine of them were from Marneuli. Of the National Movement candidates in the Marneuli region, 26 are Azeri, three are Armenian, 13 are ethnic Georgian and one is Ukrainian. The majority of the opposition candidates are ethnic Georgians.

Koba Darbaidze, the head of the Regional Election Committee said on October 3 that “Marneuli is ready for the elections. Most of the population has been informed about the day of the elections, but we are still planning to send them invitations just to make sure.”

Despite Darbaidze’s optimistic outlook, and the numerous posters which were hung around town, not all of Marneuli’s citizens had been informed about this event in the days before the election. Agunik Vartanyan, 56, a Georgian of Armenian descent said, on October 3 that she had just heard about the elections and that she is not going to participate because she doesn’t expect them to bring any changes to her life.

Marneuli’s population has complained that they were not adequately informed about election procedure or about the candidates’ various platforms. In the days leading up to the election some people did not even know who their candidates were. Mulixza Hasanova, a student at the Technical University, said that she knew almost nothing about her candidate and only recognized him from posters.

But Agayev Tahir, a National Movement candidate Marneuli said before the elections that he had been meeting with voters everyday, and stated that “60-70% of the people in this region know me.”
Another pre-election issue in Marneuli was the lack of variety of the posters advertising the elections. Although posters promoting the ruling party were put up at least ten days before Election Day, virtually no advertisements for opposition leaders could be seen in the city in the days before the election.

Responding to the question of why there were no opposition posters to be found in Marneuli, Darbaidze said that “There is no pressure. I think the problem is a lack of financing.”

The opposition candidates seemed to agree with Darbaidze’s claim that the lack of advertising was not to be blamed on the ruling party. Two days before Election Day, Industrialist Party candidate Vano Gurnadze said “The reason why we don’t have our posters yet is because the publishers were late in getting them printed. But we will start to hang them tomorrow.”

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