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Brosse Street Journal » Elections:

Wide Spectrum Of Organizations And Observers Involved In Monitoring Elections

By Giorgi Molodini
Brosse Street Journal
Wednesday, October 18 2006
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Georgia's first local self-government elections were observed by both local and international organizations. The US embassy in Georgia, along with two other organizations, provided parallel vote counts and, for the first time in Georgian electoral history, Iranian observers worked alongside observers from Western countries to monitor the proceedings.

A total of 76 local and 192 foreign observers monitored the election process all across the country, including 29 from the International Republican Institute's two branches in Georgia – Students for NATO and The New Initiative – which provided parallel vote counts.

Students for NATO representative Aleko Silagadze explained that the organization monitored election proceedings in Batumi, Kutaisi, Rustavi and Tbilisi and that they did such a thorough job that they were able to announce the final election results ahead of the Central Election Committee. The organization was founded in 2004 by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and focuses on supporting the educational sphere.

"Joining NATO is a very important issue for Georgia today. As a rule, elections play a major role in the NATO membership process, because elections are one of the main determinants of democracy. Our final results will be publicized before the CEC announces the official election results," said Silagadze on Election Day.

According to Silagadze, IRI's other Georgian branch the New Initiative was able, with the help of observers, to get accurate voting results from all election districts. IRI's vote-counters were not subject to the same lengthy, official procedures as the CEC so they managed to count votes faster.

On the evening of 5 October New Initiative declared the following results for Tbilisi: The United National Movement, 66,65%; The Davitashvili-Khidasheli-Berdzenishvili Bloc, 12,01%; The Labor Party, 10,64%; Topadze-Industry, 6,05%; and Salome Zourabichvili's Georgian Way, 0,02%.

IRI was not the only organization that provided a simultaneous vote count. Lela Javakhishvili of the organization Fair Election said that her organization signed a memorandum with IRI in which both agreed to provide parallel counts. USAID is the donor organization both for NGOs.

"This is the first time that two organizations have been allowed to provide parallel vote counts. There is a difference between our counting methods, so we are concerned that our results might not be the same. We do not want to confuse either society or the political parties," said Javakhishvili on Election Day. To avoid confusion Fair Election decided to declare its results only on 6 October, the day after the election. It turned out that the difference between the results declared by New Initiative and Fair Election was only 1%, which is considered to be an accepted European standard, so there were no misunderstandings between parties.

John Tefft, the US ambassador to Georgia, stated a few days before the election that the special election-monitoring group created by the embassy would observe not only the election itself but also the post-election process.

This was also the first Georgian election in which observers from Iran took part. The special list of observers registered with the Central Election Committee of Georgia included two observers from the Islamic Republic of Iran: Zabiola Naderi and Batavini. The Brosse Street Journal was unable to determine whether "Batavini" is a name or a surname, as the Embassy of Iran refused to comment in any way about the election or its observers.

In contrast to the Iranian authorities, observers from the NGO International Crisis Group (ICG) openly commented on their role. Headquartered in Brussels, ICG is active in conflict regions all around the world and has had a presence in Georgia since 2003. ICG representatives observed the local elections in the ethnically diverse southern part of the country and, as representative Giorgi Gogia explained, this was the first time they had ever been involved in the election process in Georgia.

"We have already observed elections in both Azerbaijan and Armenia. The main object of our interest is the participation of ethnic minorities in the election and their attitudes towards it," said Gogia.

According to Gogia, Western governments finance 60% of the ICG budget while the remaining 40% is comes from private donations.

In comparison to the International Crisis Group, two local NGOs – Democratic Principles of Georgia, and the Human Rights Protection Association – worked with virtually no budget. Davit Liluashvili, the head of Democratic Principles of Georgia, said that his organization has monitored elections in Georgia since 2002.

"We have 10 observers throughout Tbilisi. We are doing this job purely on enthusiasm. We did not get any kind of grant and we are spending our own money," said Liluashvili.

Liluashvili's organization is so shoe-string that it has no money for an office and consequently Liluashvili registered his house as a legal address.

There were three more local NGOs which were interested in monitoring the elections but were not allowed to do so. According to Guram Chalagashvili, WHO IS HE?, these NGOs have no special articles in their legal documents about human rights and were not considered appropriate organizations to be provided access to early election results.

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