Headlines from Television News:
- Members of the election office of businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili, running for president, say that they plan to create a new political party. As Nona Gaprindashvili said at the press conference on Tuesday, the party would have a national-democratic and right-wing ideology. According to her, the leader of the party will be named at the session of the constituent assembly, after the presidential elections.
- The candidates for president of Georgia spent the New Year's Eve together with their supporters and the party members. The members of the New Rights opposition party were greeted by Davit Gamkhrelidze, leader of the party. He met the New Year in the yard of the party office together with the members of the youth organization of the party. Gia Maisashvili, leader of the Future Party, decided to be the first guest to several families of his supporters. Shalva Natelashvili, leader of the Labour Party, met the New Year in the village of Nikozi, Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone, together with the members of his party. Respectfully, toasts for Georgia's integrity were heard frequently. Mikheil Saakashvili, candidate for president of the ruling party of the Parliament of Georgia addressed population from the Upper Abkhazia. The New Year's Eve eased the political tension only for one day. The candidates for president will probably restart active campaign from Wednesday.
- Davit Kezerashvili, Defense Minister of Georgia, met the 2009 New Year in the Vaziani military unit, together with the soldiers of the 1st and 4th brigades of the Defense Ministry. The Chief of Joint Staff of the Defense Ministry and Givi Targamadze, Chairman of Defense and Security Committee of the Parliament also were in the Vaziani military unit. The guests spent several hours with the soldiers. With the guests gone, the soldiers ended the celebration of the New Year with the national anthem.
- Lado Gurgenidze, Prime Minister of Georgia, and a group of businessmen arrived in the Kintsurashvili's house and gave presents to baby Mariam on January 01. The visit was held within the framework of the program Honorable Beginning, as baby Mariam, born on December 21, 2007, is the first child who received the GEL 1000 voucher provided by the program. The businessmen, who were accompanying the Prime Minister, also promised the father of baby Mariam to see to his employment. The family was also gifted a new flat by the CentrePoint company. Honorable Beginning is a joint project of the government and the businessmen, providing for annual GEL 1000 financial aid to 360 000 socially vulnerable families for every newborn child for five years.
- Catholicos Patriarch of All Georgia, His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II congratulated the population of all Georgia on New Year in his address. Ilia II wished health, peace and happiness to people, while welfare and prosperity to Georgia. “We must reconsider what we did well, and what we did wrong in the past. We also should draw a conclusion in order to act correspondingly and do good things in the future,” Georgia’s Patriarch claimed.
- Nikoloz Archvadze, who was the first child born in 2008 will be given a 100-GEL monthly stipend throughout the year by “Etalon” project of the Georgian Public Broadcasting (GPB). The program in itself is being financed by the Tbilisi City Hall and Sakrebulo (City Council). The newly born child and his mother were also visited and congratulated on New Year by Kakha Kukava, oppositional member and a lucky participant of “Etalon.”
Saakashvili Focuses on Abkhazia in New Year Message
January 1, 2007, Civil Georgia
The Georgian television stations aired shortly before the New Year an address by the incumbent presidential candidate, Mikheil Saakashvili, who was speaking from the village of Chkhalta in the Tbilisi-controlled upper Kodori Gorge in breakaway Abkhazia. Saakashvili was the only presidential candidate whose New Year message was aired live by the televisions, which was then followed by addresses by Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, and then by acting president, Nino Burjanadze. “From this illuminated Chkhalta we are overlooking still destroyed and empty Sokhumi,” Saakashvili said. “I want to salute our compatriots in Gali and I want to tell them that we are witnessing your unprecedented heroism these days. I want you to know my brothers and sisters: do not be afraid of anything; if you won’t be allowed on this side [meaning on the Georgina-controlled territory in Zugdidi where Gali residents can cast their ballots on the January 5 elections], we will soon arrive to you at your homes. I want to tell internally displaced persons from Abkhazia: I know that your houses are not in Tskaltubo [western Georgia] and in Tskneti [outside Tbilisi where many IDPs currently live]; your houses are in Gulripshi and Sokhumi [both in breakaway Abkhazia]; very soon landscape of ‘Tbilisi Sea’ [Tbilisi water reservoir where many IDPs also live] will be changed with a landscape of a seaside of Bichvinta and Ochamchire [both in Abkhazia]. We will achieve this all together… I want to say happy New Year to all ethnic groups in Georgia. Representatives of all ethnic groups are integral part of one unique group – the Georgian people.”
Poverty key issue in Georgia vote
January 1, 2008, AFP
Once a model of Soviet industrial might, the city of Rustavi is today a grim example of the stubborn poverty plaguing the small republic of Georgia. Built after World War II on the orders of Stalin, Georgia's most famous son, Rustavi was the country's industrial center, with 160,000 residents toiling in chemical factories and metal works. As snap presidential elections draw near, poverty is a key issue and the city symbolizes the mammoth task facing reformist leader Mikheil Saakashvili as he seeks a new term. All but a few of the factories have stood silent since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and the rows of concrete apartment blocks built to house factory workers are crumbling and decrepit. At least 30 percent of local residents are unemployed and more than a third have left since the early 1990s in search of work. And Rustavi, 25km south of the Georgian capital Tbilisi, is hardly unique - similar scenes can be found right across the Caucasus country. In this Saturday's polls, the opposition hopes to capitalize on widespread discontent with poverty and free-market reforms enacted by Saakashvili since he took office in 2004. "Saakashvili's government has not only failed to deal with poverty, it has made things worse," said Malkhaz Gorgaslidze, the head of the Rustavi campaign office for leading opposition candidate Levan Gachechiladze.
Saakashvili, who in 2003 led the peaceful, pro-Western Rose Revolution, has been widely praised abroad for making liberal economic reforms. But the changes, which threw thousands of public-sector employees out of work and privatized swathes of the economy, have been less popular at home. Discontent erupted in November when tens of thousands took the streets for a series of protests against the government. Saakashvili called the early election after riot police clashed with the protesters and he imposed a nine-day state of emergency. In the weeks since, Saakashvili has sought to regain support by announcing a slew of new social and employment programs. He has vowed to more than triple pensions by next year, provide free health care to nearly 700,000 poor families and pay parents 1,000 lari (US$628) for every newborn child.
Much criticism of Saakashvili has focused on his government's immense spending on infrastructure projects. Critics say that the vast amounts of money spent on repairing damaged roads and renovating buildings should have been used to combat the country's crushing poverty instead. "All these new roads and fresh paint in Tbilisi aren't helping people who don't have enough to eat," Gorgaslidze said. Saakashvili and his colleagues counter that the infrastructure projects were essential. "Some people just won't understand. You have to create a base, the conditions to address poverty," said Lasha Mindeli, a lawmaker with Saakashvili's United National Movement and his campaign manager in Rustavi. "Unfortunately many people still have a Soviet mentality and think it's up to the government to provide them with jobs, instead of creating conditions for the economy to grow," he said.
In Rustavi, for example, government projects have brought 24-hour electricity supplies to a city that four years ago had electricity only four hours a day, he said. Water and natural gas supplies have also been fully restored after nearly two decades of constant interruptions. But those free market arguments have yet to win over many in Rustavi. "Yes, we do have access now to gas and electricity, but how are people supposed to pay for it without jobs?" said Marina, 42, as she shopped in the city's central market. "The authorities focus only on creating illusions, facades to make it look like things are getting better," she said.
Georgia to Run Exit Polls for January 5 Votes
December 31, 2007, Giorgi Lomsadze, EurasiaNet
Plans to run an exit poll for Georgia's upcoming presidential elections and plebiscites are raising a fresh storm of political controversy less than a week before the January 5 vote. Key opposition candidates have denounced the poll project as biased in favor of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, while some local observers fear that the survey may only add to existing tensions. The poll, officially meant to act as a safeguard against election fraud, was commissioned by four television companies - the state-financed Georgian Public Broadcasting; and three private broadcasters, Rustavi-2, Mze and Achara TV. The opposition has routinely denounced broadcasters Rustavi-2 and Mze for a pro-government bias in their news coverage. Two prominent think-tanks - the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development and the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies -- have joined with the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs and government-funded Ilia Chavchavadze State University to manage the project. A slew of local polling companies will do the actual fieldwork and tabulation. "We have no confidence in these exit polls," stated presidential candidate Davit Gamkrelidze, leader of the New Rights Party, on December 27. Speaking to reporters, Gamkrelidze alleged that officials will manipulate the polls to try to make the election results appear legitimate. Gamkrelidze, along with fellow candidates Levan Gachechiladze and Shalva Natelashvili have charged that the government will attempt to rig the outcome in favor of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is running for a second five-year term. At a December 29 rally in Tbilisi staged by the nine-party coalition backing Levan Gachechiladze, some participants, quizzing a reporter about Washington's view of the election, pushed for international observers to stop the polls. "The exit polls are a trick being used by the government. That's it. Everyone here knows the danger," argued one Gachechiladze supporter, wearing the white neck scarf associated with the campaign. In response to such criticism, the government has claimed that opposition leaders are not willing to cooperate to hold a fair election, but instead are focusing on stirring up trouble after the election. "Rather than preparing for the election, the opposition is getting ready for January 6... this is deeply troubling," Acting President Nino Burjandaze said on December 26 in televised remarks. Trying to allay tensions, the group overseeing the exit poll has invited critics to monitor its execution. "I call on political parties who have doubts about the exit polls to send their representatives and they will be allowed to monitor the whole process," Temur Iakobashvili, president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, told a news conference on December 30. Covering all electoral districts, the exit polls will be conducted at 228 of some 4,000 polling stations. At least two pollsters will stand outside each polling station; one will keep a headcount of exiting voters and the other will ask every ninth person for whom he or she voted. In an effort to reduce the non-response rate, voters will be given an opportunity to answer confidentially by marking the candidate's number on a piece of paper designed like the ballot and by placing it in a box. Control groups drawn from polling companies will check the performance of pollsters. The final results will be made public at 11:00pm on January 5, according to the exit poll project's website. Mamuka Nadareishvili, a statistician at the Social Assistance and Employment State Agency who has worked on exit polls for the 2003 parliamentary and 2004 presidential elections, has been hired by the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies to design the poll's methodology and to coordinate its implementation. Nadareishvili argues that the exit poll is a powerful tool against the use of so-called "dead souls" - or the use of the names of deceased voters to cast votes -- as it will record the exact turnout at selected polling stations. If the non-response rate does not exceed previous ranges of 20 to 30 percent of respondents and if the race is not too close to call, the poll should give an accurate account of how voters actually voted, Nadareishvili forecast. The poll's survey design has a margin of error of two percent. But the poll may or may not reflect the official results, Nadareishvili added. For the 2003 parliamentary elections, the difference between exit poll results and official results fueled opposition charges that the election had been rigged. "In theory, I can't rule out a situation where all the non-respondents vote for a single candidate and that could dramatically change the entire picture. In reality, however, that is extremely unlikely," Nadareishvili said. One local polling practitioner differs. "Exit polls are notoriously unreliable," commented Hans Gutbrod, regional director for the Caucasus Research Resource Centers. Even if the pollsters get the methodology right, significant deviations from the actual vote count are possible, he noted. That track record holds particularly true in Georgia, which has little experience with exit polls and little verified information on past voting patterns, he noted. Gutbrod, whose center oversees a Caucasus-wide annual opinion survey, argues that opinion polls should be conducted repeatedly to get a sense of region-specific voter behavior. If a country is relatively new to exit polls, he contends, "you have a dice that is not properly balanced. The problem is that you may randomly select one polling station in a district, but you don't know if the sample is representative of the entire district." Given such shortcomings, the exit poll results could differ sharply from the official tally and fuel further controversy over the outcome, Gutbrod worries. Signs of such potential trouble are already in place. Almost all of the candidates have carried out their own opinion surveys, and each among them claims to be in the lead. Opposition media tend to run or commission polls that show opposition coalition candidate Levan Gachechiladze skimming past Saakashvili by several percentage points. A December 31 poll run by the pro-opposition newspaper Rezonansi named Gachechiladze as the top choice for 22.4 percent of 801 respondents; Saakashvili trailed at 17.6 percent. A controversial poll commissioned by the United National Movement Party and published in early December, however, put Saakashvili at 54.5 percent of the vote, with Gachechiladze at a distant 15.5 percent. The poll was run by a company headed by the wife of Central Election Commission Chairman Levan Tarkhnishvili - a fact that the opposition has cited to reject its results. Gachechiladze, who is viewed by many as the strongest challenger to the former president, has pledged to fight the official election results should Saakashvili be reelected.
Shevardnadze sure his choice will win presidential elections in Georgia
December 31, 2007, Interfax
Former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze is confident that the man for whom he will vote in the January 5 presidential elections will win them, although he did not name his choice in an interview published in the Monday issue of Kviris Palitra. "Two or three candidates have chances to win the presidential office - they are Mikheil Saakashvili, Levan Gachechiladze, and David Gamkrelidze. Shalva Natelashvili also has some chances. I am still thinking to whom to give my vote but I am sure than my choice will be the future president of Georgia," Shevardnadze said. He admitted that there is a danger that the votes could be rigged, but "the current situation is such that you cannot become president through falsifications." Shevardnadze also recalled the events preceding the so-called Rose Revolution, saying that his entire retinue except then Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili had betrayed him and sided with "the conspirators" led by Zurab Zhvania and Mikheil Saakashvili. Shevardnadze claimed that Zhvania had received "a very large sum of money" from Russia before the elections. "Russian special services took advantage of this and sent an intelligence team of 12 people to Georgia, who purposefully collected intelligence, including from the army," Shevardnadze said. Georgia asked U.S. special services to study the activities of the Russian intelligence team, and, after doing so for several months, the Americans came to the conclusion that "these people were spies and possessed most secret information," Shevardnadze said. After that, Zhvania openly went over to the opposition and started to form his retinue of then government officials, he said. Shevardnadze said he was especially disappointed by then Prime Minister Avtandil Jorbenadze's betrayal. "I learned recently that policemen beat him up with bludgeons at the opposition rally in Tbilisi on November 7. I wanted to call him but later changed my mind," Shevardnadze said