|OSCE gives muted praise, notes problems in Georgia election - Summary|
|May 22, 2008|
May 22, 2008
An OSCE statement pointed out both successes and failures in the former Soviet republic's conduct of its second-ever democratic parliamentary vote on Wednesday.
Georgia's electoral legal framework, the campaign's wide variety of candidates, fairly open media giving a full spectrum of views, a general calm on voting day, and freedom for all parties to campaign were cited as clear positive achievements in the Georgian vote.
At least isolated and possibly more than occasional instances of voter and observer intimidation, government use of state media to push its political party, the Saakashvili party's unilateral change of voting law shortly before the election, failure of election commissions and courts to review some complaints, were cited as drawbacks to the vote.
In a subtle but unmistakable shot at Saakashvili's arguments the vote results accurately represented the will of the Georgian people, the OSCE statement avoided describing the vote as in keeping with international standards, instead using the language "political stakeholders in Georgia made efforts to conduct yesterday's parliamentary elections in line with international standards."
More directly, the report cited "many significant procedural shortcomings" in the vote-counting process.
Saakashvili's United Nation Movement party was likely to capture 62.8 per cent of the popular vote, while its closet rival, the United Opposition, would receive only 13.6 per cent, said Zurab Kachkachishvili, a Central Election Commission (CEC) spokesman citing partial ballot counts.
Two smaller anti-Saakashvili parties the Christian Democrat Movement and the Labour Party, also were likely to place MPs in the next legislature, having received 8.6 and 6.1 per cent of the popular vote respectively, Kachkachishvili said.
A party must obtain 5 per cent or more of the national vote, in order to send representatives to parliament, according to Georgian constitutional statute. Eight parties failed to overcome the barrier.
Turn out in the vote appeared relatively weak, with only 55 per cent of registered voters actually casting ballots, according to CEC statistics.
The tentative official results made public by the CEC Thursday morning roughly matched exit polls made public immediately after voting ceased at eight p.m. Wednesday evening.
Opposition forces held a rally at Tbilisi's Palace of Sport into the early morning hours of Thursday, attracting some 3,000-5,000 participants.
Gia Tortladze, a senior member of the United Opposition party, harangued attendees at the gathering, saying in part "If the official results match the exit polls, the authorities will have a people's revolution on their hands."
A parallel ballot count showed opposition forces collectively actually had defeated Saakashvili's party, Tortladze and other opposition speakers claimed.
But the crowd, made up of a mix of students and middle-aged opposition supporters, gathered in a working class Tbilisi district far from the city centre, hardly seemed to eyewitnesses the stuff to choose an open confrontation with the state.
Government security presence early Thursday morning at the opposition gathering was low key, with uniformed cops staying in the background, police cruisers passing by every few minutes. One plain clothes officer was moving through the crowd and photographing selected participants.
Anti-Saakashvili demonstrations last year ended in violence after the US-educated Georgian president unleashed riot police on the crowd.
Thursday news reports brought additional details on a recent shooting incident on the border between Georgia and its renegade province Abkhazia on Wednesday, when two busloads of ethnic Georgians attempted to travel from Abkhazia to Georgia to cast ballots.
Initially conflicting government reports had solidified on Thursday into claims that "unknown persons" opened fire on the vehicles with automatic weapons and grenade launchers, injuring several riders.
Georgia's state-controlled television Thursday showed images of an ensuing 20-minute firefight between Georgian troops and purportedly Abkhazian opponents. The loud exchange of rifle and machine gun fire produced no casualties on the Georgian side.
Television images from the scene included a pair of destroyed buses, Georgian soldiers firing without aiming, and a Georgian woman with a bullet or fragment injury to her back.
Abkhazian officials denied their troops had done the shooting. An officer with Russian peacekeepers in the region confirmed a firefight had taken place, but declined to speculate on its participants.
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