Headlines from Television News:
- Daniel Fried, the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs commented on the upcoming snap presidential elections in Georgia. There is much concern that there might be wide spread vote rigging in the upcoming election, a concern that is not only voiced by Georgians but members of the international community as well. “The January 5 elections in Georgia must be free and fair not only for Georgia’s welfare but Georgia has to demonstrate to the entire Euro-Atlantic area that democracy in Georgia has managed to resolve all latest challenges facing the country,” Fried also said he welcomed cleaning of voter lists and the providing of open and transparent electoral procedures. He claimed that the best way to the North-Atlantic commonwealth lies with free and fair elections.
- Catholicos Patriarch of All Georgia, His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II has summoned the Georgian population to take part in the balloting for the January 5, 2008 upcoming snap presidential elections. Ilia II made this statement during his traditional Sunday sermon on December 30. Georgia’s Catholicos Patriarch advised the nation to make a right decision for country’s fate and future. “I won't tell you who you should vote for, God has given you reason to vote and you must judge yourself who will do the most good for our country. We must all make our choice,” the Patriarch stated.
- Election programs of presidential candidates, who are standing in the upcoming snap presidential elections of January 5, 2008, will be translated into Russian, Armenian and Azerbaijani languages. Today there will be a presentation at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel in Tbilisi to describe the full extent of the proposed program. “Multiethnic Georgia” and “Law for People” non-governmental organizations initiated the project. It is believed that presidential programs of candidates will become more comprehensible and clearer through this initiative for representatives of various ethnic minorities in Georgia.
- Members of opposition parties assigned by the Georgian Central Election Commission (CEC) to monitor the upcoming January 5, 2008 presidential elections once again commented regarding fraudulent voter lists this afternoon. Representatives of oppositional “Conservative Party” claimed that about one million of Georgian voters are currently living abroad and that they are not registered as being emigrants in the lists. The party members fear that their votes can be illegally used during the elections. Levan Tarkhnishvili, CEC Chairman talked about election procedures in response to opposition’s allegations. During today’s press conference he presented various effective means how to secure votes from being forged.
- At the initiative and organization of the Tbilisi City Hall and Georgia’s Ministry of Culture, several celebrative activities will be held in Tbilisi for the New Year. The New Year program will be targeted at people of all ages and tastes. Rustaveli Avenue and Freedom Square in Tbilisi will be hosting various shows and performances from December 31 to January 7. The activities will include children’s and folk concerts and performances of Rustaveli, Pantomime and Fingers’ Theatres. On the New Year night the Spanish popular group of the 1970s “Chico and Gypsies” will give a special concert for the Georgian audience.
- Nino Burjanadze, Georgia’s acting president has signed a decree on pardoning of prisoners. According to the decree, 214 inmates will meet this New Year with their families. The pardoned prisoners will be freed from prisons sometime today. Most of the pardoned inmates are juveniles, women and those, who were charged for minor non-violent crimes. A second round of pardoning is expected in January of 2008.
- Gia Tortladze, member of the United National Council survived an explosive device blast. Press Centre of the Council reported that unknown people threw the explosive object under the “BMW” car belonging to Tortladze. The incident occurred near the electoral headquarters of Levan Gachechiladze, presidential candidate of the United National Council of oppositional forces presented by the political union “Tavisufleba” (Liberty). The explosive device ejected when Tortladze was entering the car. Eyewitnesses reported that the explosion was rather strong. However, neither Tortladze was injured nor the car damaged as a result. The Vake-Saburtalo Police Department is heading up investigation into the case.
- Kakha Kukava, one of the leaders of the United National Council today once again talked about fraudulent voter lists for the upcoming snap presidential elections of January 5, 2008. He will present the information about various violations later this afternoon to representatives of the Diplomatic Corps accredited in Georgia. Kukava also accused local TV stations for unequal allocation of air-time to presidential candidates.
- The electoral headquarters of Badri (Arkadi) Patarkatsishvili, presidential candidate and a Georgian business tycoon that existed both in Tbilisi and Georgia’s regions will be closed down. The Senaki and Zugdidi headquarters already stopped functioning. Gia Mikaia, Head of Senaki headquarters said despite Patarkatsishvili’s request to continue activities, the headquarters was shut down, while its members would not support any candidate in the elections. The electoral headquarters of Patarkatsishvili will officially apply to the Central Election Commission (CEC) on January 4 with an application to withdraw Patarkatsishvili’s candidacy in the January 5 snap presidential election.
- Estonian IDPs from Abkhazia, Georgia’s one of two breakaway regions and “frozen conflict zones” sent a special address to Mikheil Saakashvili, presidential candidate representing the Georgian United National Movement Party. The IPDs backed Saakashvili’s foreign policy and pledged full support to him in the snap presidential elections of January 5, 2008. Estonian IDPs from Abkhazia also hoped that during Saakashvili’s second-term presidency, Abkhazia would be liberated from Abkhazian separatists and the region would be re-integrated into Georgia’s territory.
- Nino Burjanadze, Georgia’s acting president awarded two officers of the State Security Ramin Barkaia and Giorgi Kharaishvili with medals for “military bravery” this afternoon. Barkaia and Kharaishvili were on duty on Baratashvili Bridge in Tbilisi when they rescued a young woman from drowning into the River Mtkvari several days ago.
- Levan Gachechiladze, presidential candidate of the United National Council of oppositional forces presented by the political union “Tavisufleba” (Liberty) congratulated locals of Georgia’s Shida Kartli region on New Year from Ruis-Urbnisi Eparchy this afternoon. Gachechilade arrived in the region together with his supporters Teo Tlashadze and Zviad Dzidziguri. They talked about the latest developments in the country and called on voters to take part in the balloting of January 5 presidential elections.
- Mikheil Saakashvili, presidential candidate representing the Georgian United National Movement party opened a newly constructed ice ring in Zugdidi, Georgia’s Samegrelo region this afternoon. IDPs from Abkhazia, Georgia’s one of two breakaway regions and “frozen conflict zones” as well as locals met Saakashvili, who congratulated the gathering on New Year. The presidential candidate claimed that Samegrelo was the richest region in Georgia and that it was not predestined for poverty.
- Georgia’s Labor Party will nominate its candidacy for the post of Georgian Prime Minister in three days. Shalva Natelashvili, presidential candidate representing the Georgian Labor Party gave a press conference this afternoon and said the candidate would be acceptable for whole Georgia. Natelashvili also summarized his pre-election campaign results. “We have toured about all Georgia. Wherever we went, the population wished to have Georgia without Saakashvili (presidential candidate representing the United National Movement). Let’s the God help Georgians so that their dreams come true,” Natelashvili claimed. Natelashvili also took the opportunity to congratulate people on New Year and then departed for Liakhvi Gorge of the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone.
Georgian Online News
Foreign Diplomats Call for Free Elections
December 31, 2007, Civil Georgia
Ambassadorial Working Group on 2008 presidential elections in Georgia called on all sides “to ensure the conduct of free and fair elections as well as an environment free of intimidation, where Georgian citizens can fully exercise their constitutional right to vote.” The Tbilisi-based Ambassadorial Working Group is co-chaired by the OSCE Mission to Georgia and the United Nations; and comprises representation of the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the European Union and OSCE Participating States accredited in Georgia." “Reaffirming support for the work of international election observation missions, they also stressed the importance for all political actors to demonstrate full commitment to international electoral standards by duly taking into account the findings and recommendations of those missions,” the group said in a statement released on December 31. The OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission said in its second interim report that the presidential election campaign environment “has been soured” by allegations of the misuse of administrative resources by incumbent candidate Mikheil Saakashvili, unequal campaign conditions, intimidation and vote buying, “The OSCE/ODIHR EOM has received information and first-hand accounts, which indicate that some of these claims are credible,” it said in the report covering the period between December 14 and December 24.
Minister Stresses on Right to Secret Ballot
December 31, 2007, Civil Georgia
Eka Tkeshelashvili, the justice ministers, said the right to secret ballot is fully guaranteed and no one will ever know about their personal choice. Tkeshelashvili’s remarks comes in the light of widespread allegations that state employees are under pressure from their bosses to vote for incumbent presidential candidate, Mikheil Saakashvili. Tkeshelashvili chairs the inter-agency group, set up by the authorities to act as a rapid reaction mechanism to possible violations during the election campaign. “Our society should know that voter's choices are absolutely confidential. Any fear that a voter’s choice may be used against him is totally groundless, because the law and all the electoral procedures provide firm guarantees that your choice will remain confidential and know one except of you will know for whom you have cast your ballot. So be free in you choice,” Tkeshelashvili said. “If you have any information that anyone has been intimidating you or someone else, including by exerting psychological pressure, to vote for any candidate, please let us know through our hotlines.”
Journalist Gives Some Details of Imedi Shutdown Talks
December 31, 2007, Civil Georgia, Kviris Palitra
A group of leading Imedi TV journalists have been in intense negotiations with the management trying to convince them to suspend broadcasts, before they had decided to quit the station, according to account published by one of the reporters in the weekly Kviris Palitra on December 31. Dachi Grdzelishvili, a journalist who was among five other reporters, who have publicly quit Imedi TV on December 26, has suggested that Imedi TV management had to suspend broadcasts after they decided to quit. “After covertly taped conversation between Gelbakhiani and Kodua was released [on December 24], wherein host of our [weekly] program [Droeba] and head of political programs [Giorgi Targamadze] was also mentioned, I got upset and shared my concerns with some other colleagues. It turned out that they were concerned as well as and we decided to meet with Giorgi [Targamadze],” Dachi Grdzelishvili wrote. “We told him that it was extremely unfavorable condition for [journalists] wherein our impartiality could have been misused and in order to save the TV station it was necessary to sharply distance from that political dirtiness. Giorgi responded that he was distancing himself from any type of politics and was ready to take responsibility for the station’s editorial policy and he had also offered us to share this responsibility. Later, tapes involving Patarkatsishvili had also been released and we again met with Giorgi… We have been talking till 2 am [December 26]. Giorgi told us that he had offered Patarkatsishvili to withdraw from the presidential race and to give up his shares into the television station to resolve the impasse. He also told us that he was expecting [Patarkatsishvili’s] response next day. But for me and my colleagues it was unclear why Patarkatsishvili would have said No to a company in which he had invested tens of millions of dollars. And doubts have emerged that it would have been impossible to resolve the issue till January 6 and Imedi TV would have been involved in the dirty political games of its founder [Patarkatsishvili] and the authorities. We immediately offered Giorgi to suspend news programs before the end of [the January 5] elections and meanwhile to clarify issues with the founder and owner. Giorgi, however, argued that suspending of broadcasts or news programs would have created problems in terms of [the television station’s] license conditions and on the other hand it would have been a blow for the pluralism and democracy ahead of polls. We thought much that night… Next morning we again met with Giorgi and told him that Patarkatsishvili would not have given his response till the end of elections and we offered him to join us. Giorgi told us that he expected this decision [about quitting the television station] from us and also said that he had nothing to complain... After our public statement the TV management announced about suspending of broadcasts. Five days have gone since then and nothing is heard so far about possible hand over of shares [by Patarkatsishvili] and Patarkatsishvili has not yet officially asked the Central Election Commission to suspend his presidential candidate status. So I want to ask those who still question the decision of those six journalists, who have publicly quit the television station: would Imedi TV have suspended broadcasts and hence would it have survived dirty political games if not our decision?” Meanwhile, Giorgi Targamadze said in an interview with the Kviris Palitra, that the current staff of Imedi TV and he personally has two demands: Patarkatsishvili should be fully disassociated with Imedi and should give up shares into the television stations; and another demand is to have guarantees that in case of change of hands, “Imedi will not become under the control of the authorities and will not turn into a similar television station like Rustavi 2, Mze TV or other national televisions are.” He also said that if these two demands are not met he and many of his colleagues would quit the television station.
Five Opposition Activists Fined
December 31, 2007, Civil Georgia
Court fined five activists from the nine-party opposition coalition’s youth wing with GEL 400 each on December 31 for “disobeying the police lawful orders.” Police arrested twelve activists late on December 30 after they were trying to write anti-Saakashvili graffiti in downtown Tbilisi. Seven were released shortly after the arrest.
Minister Warns Police against Election Involvement
December 30, 2007, Civil Georgia
Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili has warned policemen against getting involved in the electoral process. “Do not engage in the election process, except of course, to ensure security,” he said on December 30. “Policemen engaged in the election process, regardless of whom they favor, will be punished. We are a democratic state and we want this election and others to be held democratically, so we will not let law enforcement officers to use their position to favor any candidate.” “At the same time, we guarantee that our police will not let anyone – no matter how well-organized, no matter how well-financed – to stage unrest.”
Exit Poll Managers Pledge Impartiality
December 30, 2007, Civil Georgia
In an attempt to allay fears over possible manipulation of exit poll results, the organizers have invited all election stakeholders to monitor the exit poll process. Four networks – the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB), Rustavi 2 TV, Mze TV and Adjara TV - have jointly commissioned exit polls for the January 5 presidential election and plebiscites. The Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA), Ilia Chavchavadze State University and two think-tanks - the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD) and the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS) have been charged with managing the exit polls. Six local research groups – IPM, ACT, Sarke, ISSA, ISR, ARC – have been contracted to conduct field work. Exit poll results will be available as soon as polling stations close at 8 pm local time on January 5. The opposition, however, has already snubbed the planned exit polls. “We can not trust them, especially when at least two of them – the Ilia Chavchavadze State University and Adjara TV are state-funded.” MP Mamuka Katsitadze of the New Rights Party, whose leader Davit Gamkrelidze is a presidential candidate, said. “We are saying No to exit polls, we are saying No to this farce,” Kontstantine Gamsakhurdia, leader of Freedom Party – part of the nine-party opposition coalition backing Levan Gachechiladze’s presidential bid - told thousands of supporters at a rally in Tbilisi on December 29. A group of organizers convened a press conference on December 30 and called on election stakeholders to send representatives to a specially set up monitoring group to observe the entire process, including data processing. “It is very important to note that exit polls are an additional tool against ballot-rigging… and we deem it our civic responsibility to carry out this process,” Levan Tsutskiridze, rector of GIPA, said. He added that as an additional guarantee against any possible manipulation, data would be processed simultaneously at two separate locations. “Exit polls are not being held for any political party, or to legitimize something or to deprive legitimization to something,” Temur Iakobashvili, the president of GFSIS, said. “Exit polls are being held to provide an additional tool to improve upon the quality of the electoral process. So I call on political parties, who have doubts about exit polls, to send your representatives and they will be allowed to monitor the entire process.” Koba Liklikadze, a journalist from the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Georgian service, said at the press conference that he would be a member of the monitoring team. “I promise to respond to any controversy that may arise in the process,” he said. Meanwhile, two election watchdog groups - International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) and New Generation-New Initiative (nGnI) - are planning to conduct parallel vote tabulation (PVT), which entails counting votes simultaneously with officials from precinct election commissions.
Foreign Press on Georgia
Georgia's Interim President Rejects OSCE's Election Accounts
December 31, 2007, By Helena Bedwell, Bloomberg.com
Georgian Interim President Nino Burjanadze rejected accounts from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that government funds may have skewed the Jan. 5 election in favor of her party's candidate. The Vienna-based OSCE reported on Dec. 27 it received ``credible'' first-hand accounts of instances where budget funds, intimidation and vote buying were used in the campaign for former President Mikheil Saakashvili's reelection. ``I can assure you that not a tetri has been spent on Saakashvili's campaign from the state budget,'' Burjanadze, 43, said in an interview. A tetri is the lowest denomination of local currency. Burjanadze spoke yesterday in Tbilisi. Georgians go to the polls Jan. 5 after Saakashvili stepped down and declared a state of emergency following clashes between police and demonstrators. Protestors accused him of stifling the opposition. Burjanadze, Saakashvili's oldest ally, became interim president on Nov. 25, when Saakashvili resigned as required by law to run for a second term. ``Our main priorities are now to hold free and fair elections, so our friends and enemies will have no doubts,'' Burjanadze said. ``This is why we have invited a record number of international observers, up to a thousand.'' She said she met OSCE mission head Dieter Boden, and her team has accepted several ``serious remarks'' from the organization. The government is investigating every report of pressure on candidates or their supporters, she said. Thousands of Georgians rallied in Tbilisi last week, calling on the government to hold a fair election. The demonstrations were led by the united opposition group of nine political parties and their candidate, Levan Gachechiladze. ``Our government is ready for a transparent election, but there are forces wanting to destabilize the situation,'' Burjanadze said.
Russia peacekeepers on reinforced alert in Abkhazia, S Ossetia
December 31, 2007, Itar-Tass
Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been put on the reinforced alert on Monday, Igor Konashenkov, an aide to the commander-in-chief of the Russian Ground Troops, told Itar-Tass. “This, in particular, is caused by the fact that Georgia will hold the presidential election on January 5,” the commander’s aide explained. “We do not rule out that the election campaign in Georgia may be used by destructive elements of the country for the organisation of provocations against our peacekeepers,” Konashenkov stressed.
Georgia to secede from ex-Soviet group
December 31, 2007, China Daily, Xinhua
Georgia has planned to eventually secede from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose grouping of ex-Soviet republics, but not in a hurry, Itar-Tass news agency reported on Monday, citing a senior cabinet member. "Georgia will eventually secede from the CIS, but this decision will be made at the most advantageous moment so that it does not harm Georgia," State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Georgy Baramidze was quoted as saying. CIS, formed after the Soviet collapse in 1991, groups 12 of the former 15 republics of the Soviet Union with Moscow in a dominating position. Georgian opposition has asked for an early secession from the CIS, claiming such membership collides with Georgia's set policy of integration with NATO. But President Mikhail Saakashvili, scheduled to run for a second term of office at an early presidential election on Jan. 5, 2008, has rejected a hasty withdrawal. "So far, the CIS membership enables Georgia to develop relations with the majority of CIS member states and use this organization as a floor for defending its position," Baramidze said in an interview with the Georgian Public TV Sunday evening. The minister also vowed to improve ties with Russia, saying such relations "must be normalized on principles of equality and mutual respect, with due account of Georgia's territorial integrity." Moscow and Tbilisi are in rows on arrays of disputes, such as Georgia's ambition to join NATO and the Caucasus nation's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that allegedly gained supports from Russia. Georgia has been pursuing NATO membership since the late 1990s and its officials have repeatedly expressed their wish for a candidate status of NATO membership in 2008.
On the cusp: Georgia country briefing
December 31, 2007, By Denise Hamick, Jane’s
As the New Year breaks, Georgia is preparing for its place in an uncomfortable spotlight as it goes to the polls to elect its president on 5 January. The snap elections were called in November in response to six days of public protests outside parliament, their abrupt finish as the streets were cleared by deploying interior ministry troops, tear gas and water cannons and the subsequent 15-day state of emergency announced by President Mikhail Saakashvili. Announcing the public election was a move that took the edge off a precariously shaky security situation and showed the rest of the world, and predominantly NATO, that Georgia did look to the ballot box to solve its problems, as is consistent with Euro-Atlantic values. The protests had been sparked by President Saakashvili's decision to move the parliamentary elections, which were scheduled for October, to April in order to seek political advantage. In the new democracy, formed in the 'Rose Revolution' of 2003, deviation from the recently established polling process did not sit well. With an international audience assured due to the 'Building Europe's East' summit taking place in Tbilisi, more than 50,000 people took to the streets, accusing Saakashvili of authoritarianism and calling for his resignation. The Georgian government, however, suggested more sinister motives were at work behind the demonstrations, claiming the protestors were motivated by pro-Russian television broadcasts and alleging the protest leaders were directly backed by Moscow. Georgia's First Deputy Defence Minister, Batu Kutelia, told Jane's that there is "direct evidence some leaders of this manifestation were manipulated by outside forces... It was a serious attempt against our state". As a Soviet successor state, Georgia's relationship with its 'northern neighbour' has deteriorated sharply in the last two years. Situated on Russia's southern border on the Black Sea, between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, Georgian territory has become vital in the energy supply chain because of the transport links it can offer between Russia, Central Asia and Europe. The most significant recent example was the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in 2006 to transport crude petroleum from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean. Further, as Russia looks to strengthen its reputation as a global power at home, it is reluctant to release Georgia from its political skirts or influence. Economic sanctions are just one measure it is using to demonstrate its power.
Election Update Volume 4 (12-31-2007)
Media Monitoring Slides