US lauds Georgian elections
May 22, 2008
May 22, 2008
Desmond Butler, The Associated Press
The United States cautiously praised Georgia's parliamentary elections on Thursday, despite criticism of the vote from international observers.
Wednesday's election was a critical test for a close U.S. ally that is seeking NATO membership.
The United States and European Union have hoped the election would restore the U.S.-allied leader's reputation for democracy after a violent crackdown on opposition protesters last year.
«We were pleased to see that the elections in general proceeded in a positive manner,» said a State Department spokesman, Tom Casey.
Casey noted that the United States is still assessing the election.
The initial U.S. reaction followed criticism by international observers, who cited improvement over January's presidential election but also noted problems.
Partial returns from the vote show President Mikhail Saakashvili's governing party winning a strong majority. Saakashvili's opponents are already challenging those results.
The observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe noted that Georgian officials tried to bring the election up to international standards.
Voters had a wide choice for candidates to parliament, media showed differing viewpoints and the country's election laws were «generally conducive to the conduct of democratic elections,» the observers said.
But the campaign was marred by allegations of intimidation, state resources appeared to be used to support some candidates, and regional election commissions and courts could have done more to consider complaints, the observers said.
Saakashvili also was under pressure to improve on the January vote. Although OSCE observers said the overall balloting was in line with democratic standards, they noted an array of violations and urged Georgia to do better in the parliamentary vote.
When NATO declined to grant Georgia a road map for membership last month, the alliance stressed that members looked forward to «free and fair parliamentary elections» and would review the issue in December.