|Georgian Daily News for January 8, 2008|
|April 11, 2008|
Headlines from Television News:
Presidential Elections 2008
Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian leader, plans to be inaugurated on January 20 for a second term after his triumph in Saturday's election, with official results showing a convincing win. Georgia's Central Elections Commission said preliminary counts from more than 90 per cent of votes gave Mr Saakashvili 52.8 per cent, nearly double that of his nearest challenger. Levan Gachechiladze, the candidate leading a nine-party coalition, mustered just over 25 per cent. Cumulatively, opposition candidates won some 46 per cent of the vote but the majority gained by Mr Saakashvili was enough to avoid a second round run-off. The European Union and other international allies welcomed the election result. Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief, congratulated Georgia on conducting a "truly competitive" election, while Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine's newly appointed prime minister, said: "We very well know how important it is for all responsible politicians to respect the results of a democratic vote." Mr Saakashvili's domestic opponents stuck to calls for a run-off, pledging to challenge the results in court and with street protests. But the incumbent pro-western president appeared to have regained the political momentum and bone-chilling weather could keep protests small. David Bakradze, spokesman for Mr Saakashvili, said protests would be weak "because the perception among Georgians and observers is that these were free and fair elections, and that they reflect the will of the Georgian people". Mr Saakashvili will likely declare victory today after 100 per cent of the votes were formally counted. It also was likely he would be inaugurated on January 20 for a second term, said Mr Bakradze. The results, announced as Georgia celebrated Orthodox Christmas, mean that Mr Saakashvili's political gamble seems to have paid off. He called the elections to defuse a crisis that flared when opposition demonstrations were met with a violent police crackdown that generated criticism at home and abroad. Insisting the vote was fraudulent, opposition leaders demanded a run-off and pledged to challenge the vote in court before official results are formally recognised on January 13. Bitter weather could foil their plans for holding a massive protest today. Observers said the opposition may now focus on building momentum ahead of a spring parliamentary vote rather than trying to reverse the presidential contest. The latest results of counting of votes for presidential elections can be viewed at the official web-page of the Central Election Commission: http://www.results.cec.gov.ge/?lang=eng ; The detailed description of January 5 developments are provided by EurasiaNet and can be viewed at:
Slipping from 96% of the vote in the January 2004 Presidential election to 51.96% four years later, in Saturday's national vote, signifies a dramatic drop for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Back in 2004, the people swept Saakashvili into power as the Prince of the Rose Revolution — a mass upheaval that overthrew the previous regime. The people hoped against hope that Saakashvili — young, strong, incorruptible and U.S.-educated — would redress the numerous ills of this small former Soviet republic, devastated by almost two decades of civil wars, the loss of three provinces, mass poverty, and bullied by its erstwhile Imperial master Russia. Now, however, the electorate has taken a more realistic view at what Saakashvili, 40, has accomplished in these four years — and what he has also failed to deliver. Saakashvili had a lot going for him. In the Parliamentary March 2004 election, his National Movement-Democrats party carried 68% of the vote to dominate the legislative body. Both the U.S. and the E.U. saw him as "a beacon of democracy in that part of the world," as President George W. Bush put it on his visit to Tbilisi in May 2005. With that kind of domestic and international support, he launched comprehensive economic reform, restoring to the people such long forgotten luxuries like electricity, heat and water supplies. In 2006, as Georgia's GDP grew by 9.6%, the World Bank named Georgia the top reformer in the world. Its officials forecast growth of 14.5% in 2007. The Georgian government boosted revenues by tightening up the administration of the tax system. Private investment went up and there has been a crackdown on corruption. Per capita income is up from $700 a year in 2003 to the current figure of $1,500. The most astonishing achievement was Saakashvili's reform of the traditionally corrupt police forces. He disbanded the entire Ministry of the Interior — with recruitment based on the western testing system. It may come as a joke to those who remember the old Georgia, but most police do not take bribes now — they're well paid and their jobs are too respected to be lost in ignominy. In May 2004, Saakashvili went out of his way to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin that he could serve as a go-between to hammer out an acceptable balance of American and Russian interests in the Caucasus. This let Saakashvili restore Ajaria, one of the breakaway and Moscow-oriented provinces, to Georgia's central authority, as Putin gave it up as a test of Saakashvili's intentions. At that, however, Saakashvili's luck seems to have run out: Russia firmly controls Abkhazia and South Ossetia — the other two breakaway republics, with no intentions of giving them back, and keeps turning up the heat on a Western-leaning Georgia, since September 2006, by severing mail and transportation links between the two countries, closing Russian markets to Georgian wine and other key exports. Many Georgian businesses got closed in Russia, with Georgians rounded up and forcibly deported. The Russian Embassy was withdrawn from Tbilisi, coming back only in January 2007. Georgian ships were denied the right of entry to Russian ports. Natural gas prices, raised from $110 up to $235, sealed the tight economic blockade clamped on Georgia. The failure to return the lost territories seriously undercut Saakashvili at home. Many began to grumble about his reform not improving their living conditions fast enough. Complaints arose that his macro-reform was adversely affecting ordinary businessmen and traders. A crackdown on the black market in cigarettes and alcohol left thousands of street vendors without jobs. Growing incomes are offset by rising inflation and these reforms have made many Georgians pay tax and utilities bills in full. The government is also dramatically increasing the defense budget instead of raising pensions. The opposition, represented by nine parties, invoked Saakashvili's increasingly authoritarian style of management. The opposition also alleged corruption and crime in Saakashvili's own team. The real bombshell came in September 2007, when Irakli Okruashvili, once Saakashvili's closest confidant and Defense Minister, publicly accused the President of ordering a political murder. Okruashvili also claimed that the popular Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, whose mysterious death in January 2005 was officially explained by a gas leak, was in fact murdered. These allegations have been denied by Saakashvili. As opposition protest rallies were attracting growing numbers of people, Saakashvili's nerve snapped. In November, he ordered his riot police to crack down, using tear gas and rubber bullets, and clamped the stage of siege on Georgia. With even his staunch Western supporters deploring that decision, Saakashvili sought to restore his democratic credentials by lifting the stage of siege, resigning and calling a snap Presidential election, which he now appears to be winning by the skin of his teeth in the first round. This would be crucial as going into a run-off could have proved his undoing. The opposition charged the election was rigged — and promised a non-stop protest action as of Tuesday, January 8, once the Orthodox Christmas is over. The opposition action will hardly result in another revolution of Roses — but it has a strong chance of inflicting on the now weakened President a crushing defeat at the Parliamentary election, coming in the Spring of 2008. The bottom line, though, is that Georgia's fledgling democracy is making significant steps forward in this test of wills, as both the pro-government and opposition forces firmly align themselves to Western democratic values.
Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian president, looks likely to emerge as the winner of the snap presidential election he called to defuse a political crisis. Preliminary results gave Mr Saakashvili more than 52 per cent of the vote, comfortably above the minimum 50 per cent required to avoid a second round of polling. He defeated second-placed Levan Gachechiladze, the main opposition candidate, by a considerable margin. But, the dynamic Mr Saakashvili is by no means out of trouble. The president must take care in managing the street protests that opposition parties are mounting in support of claims that the polls were rigged. Another heavy-handed bout of policing of the kind that started the crisis in November would do nothing to restore normality or repair Mr Saakashvili’s battered international reputation. Opposition leaders, including former allies from the 2003 Rose Revolution, were right to attack the president for his authoritarian tendencies. Mr Saakashvili must stop seeing himself as the sole guarantor of Georgian democracy – and recognise that other leaders have an important role to play. Meanwhile, opposition leaders must show that they too can adhere to democratic standards. The election campaign has not been enhanced by lurid claims of coups and counter-coups or by irresponsible pledges of budgetary hand-outs. With so much political turmoil about, it will be hard for Georgia to implement new economic reforms. But Mr Saakashvili must now consolidate the considerable gains he has made since 2003, reassure investors there will be no backsliding and ensure the benefits of higher economic growth reach Georgia’s many poor people. Beyond that, the top issue on Tbilisi’s agenda remains unchanged: maintaining Georgia’s stability in the face of threats from the separatist territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whilst trying to neutralise the pressure coming from Russia. The country’s main hope is that whoever succeeds Vladimir Putin as Russian president could co-operate on reducing tensions in the region – but that seems as likely today as a January thaw in the deep Caucasian winter. For the west, the lesson of the past few weeks is to give somewhat less support to the person of Mr Saakashvili and rather more to a range of democratic leaders and institutions. This will be difficult given Georgia’s domestic divisions and persistent Russian interference. But it is the best way forward.
TBILISI - Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's reelection in a vote deemed broadly fair has helped restore his democratic credentials, but the slim victory shows his post-revolution honeymoon is over. He won just over half the votes on Saturday, down from 90 percent in a 2004 election that rewarded the staunch U.S. ally for leading the "Rose Revolution" to challenge a flawed poll the year before. "Georgia has moved from a stable, revolutionary government to something much more messy, more normal," said Svante Cornell, of the Institute for Security and Development Policy. Saakashvili had ridden a wave of popular support to push through radical reforms and aggressively seek closer integration with the West, to Moscow's annoyance. He and a close-knit group of advisors dominated Georgia, about the size of Ireland and with a population of about 4.5 million, and his party controlled parliament. But Saturday's presidential election marked a huge shift. With most of the votes counted, the central election commission said Saakashvili had scraped a first round win with 52 percent to his nearest rival's 27 percent. "The fifth of January ended the revolution. The revolution is over," said Temur Iakobashvili, an analyst at the independent Georgian Foundation for International and Strategic Studies. "Now we have to deal with new challenges." The vote went some way to restoring Saakashvili's image as a democrat, which took a tumble in November after he ordered police to fire rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators protesting against his rule. Georgia lies on the route of a major oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Europe and is the centre of a regional power struggle between the United States and Russia.
Western monitors scrutinised the vote and though they said there had been numerous violations, these were not serious enough to influence the election, dubbed Georgia's first competitive vote since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union. Diplomats said this reassured vital foreign investors and would help Saakashvili keep favour with his big supporters, the United States and the European Union. But the monitors' report did not stop opponents -- who accuse Saakashvili of corruption, economic mismanagement and autocracy -- from calling the vote a fraud. The opposition has pledged daily protests and the first demonstration on Sunday attracted up to 7,000 people. This compares to the 100,000 people who demonstrated against the government in November -- the peak of the five day protest which triggered the police crackdown. It is unclear if the opposition can maintain the pressure but the possibility of violence and mass protests hovers. "Clearly some of the opposition want to protest but can they keep it up and what scale will it be on?" a Western diplomat said. "It could be a bumpy ride." Georgians vote again in either March or April in a parliamentary election which analysts say is unpredictable. Opposition parties might well win most seats. This would set parliament against Saakashvili and might paralyse politics, said analyst Cornell, possibly slowing his drive to join NATO and turning off foreign investors. "The polarisation of politics could become a problem for Georgia internationally," Cornell said.
Saakashvili's Opponents Seen Likely to Challenge Presidential Election Results
Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili won more than half the vote in a Jan. 5 presidential election, returns from 49 percent of polling stations showed, as monitors from abroad said the ballot met most standards of fairness. If Saakashvili, 40, has more than 50 percent of the total vote, he'll win a second term without the need for a second round. He had 50.52 percent at 2 a.m. today, with results in from 1,719 of Georgia's 3,511 polling stations. His main opponent, businessman Levan Gachechiladze, had 25.34 percent of the vote, the Central Electoral Commission said on its Web site. Opposition leaders called the ballot ``rigged.'' ``Because of the demonstrative competitiveness of this campaign, I perceive this election as a viable expression of the free choice of the Georgian people,'' U.S. Congressman Alcee Hastings, head of the observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told a news conference in Tbilisi yesterday. Gachechiladze pledged to protest the result at a rally of about 8,000 of his supporters in central Tbilisi an hour before the OSCE, Europe's main human rights and democracy watchdog, gave its verdict. ``Protests will continue,'' he said, adding that he will seek legal redress against the result and make a formal complaint to the Central Electoral Commission. Today is Christmas day in the Georgian calendar, a public holiday. After that, Gachechiladze said, ``the fight will continue.''
`Consistent With Standards'
The rally dispersed peacefully about 1 1/2 hours after it started. Even though the election ``was, in essence, consistent with most international standards for democratic elections, significant challenges were revealed which need to be addressed urgently,'' Hastings said. ``We have concrete evidence that on many occasions and in many places, there have been serious violations,'' Tina Khidasheli, a leader of the opposition Republican Party, told a news conference on Jan. 5 before polls closed. David Bakradze, spokesman for Saakashvili's campaign, said his team would not start celebrating until official results were announced. The Central Electoral Commission said final results won't be known for two more days. Both Saakashvili, who was swept to power after the bloodless ``Rose Revolution'' in 2003, and Gachechiladze, 43, favor pro-Western policies, including seeking membership in the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Gachechiladze accuses Saakashvili of increasingly authoritarian behavior, citing his declaration of a state of emergency in November.
Saakashvili, a Columbia University graduate, called the election under Western pressure following his imposition of the state of emergency, after thousands took to the streets of Tbilisi to protest low living standards and his government. A separate, non-binding plebiscite was held Jan. 5 on whether Georgia should join NATO. A Dec. 1-12 poll published by Business Consulting Group showed about 85 percent of 13,000 respondents support membership. No results from that vote have yet been released. Closer ties between the former Soviet republic and the West are likely to anger Russia, which has protested NATO encroaching on its borders. Under Saakashvili, Georgia's relations with its northern neighbor deteriorated so much that President Vladimir Putin halted all travel links and banned Georgian imports. Georgia is crossed by a major pipeline carrying crude oil from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean, bypassing the Middle East and Russia and so increasing its strategic importance to the West. Its economy grew by 13.2 percent in the third quarter from the same period in 2006. By contrast, gross domestic product in Ukraine, another former Soviet republic seeking European Union and NATO membership, rose by 6.4 percent in the same period.
The Republic of Georgia's president-elect praised elections that appear to have returned him to power Monday as proof that "democracy can work" in the ex-Soviet state. The Georgian electoral commission has yet to declare an official result. However, near-complete returns from the weekend election showed pro-Western president Mikheil Saakashvili with an unassailable lead, the head of the commission said. "We really proved that democracy can work and freedom can prevail," Saakashvili, the hero of Georgia's "Rose Revolution" in 2003, told CNN in an interview Monday. Saakashvili resigned as president in November, leaving speaker of the parliament Nino Burjanadze to temporarily fill the post. Saakashvili claimed 52.8 percent of the vote, while opposition leader Levan Gachechiladze had 27 percent, Central Elections Commission Chairman Levan Tarkhnishvili said. A few precincts and some votes from abroad remained to be counted, but the outstanding votes are not enough to change the outcome, Tarkhnishvili added. By surpassing the 50 percent mark, Saakashvili avoided a second-round runoff with Gachechiladze. Saakashvili, who won a landslide victory four years ago after he was swept to power following Georgia's "Rose Revolution," said the closeness of the vote proved the country's democratic institutions are developing. He said the opposition "gave a very good fight." The presidential vote -- called after Saakashvili was criticized for a crackdown against violent anti-government protests in November -- won the backing of international observers, who said it was, "in essence," consistent with most international standards. This view was not shared by the Russian government, which claimed the vote was marked by "numerous offenses against election legislation on the part of the authorities." Georgia has not enjoyed good relations with Moscow, and those ties were soured further when the Kremlin imposed a ban on Georgian goods last year. Saakashvili said he is hopeful that Russian elections in March, which will see incumbent leader Vladmir Putin leave office, could signal a "fresh start" for relations between the two states. He said he is also hopeful the ban on imports of Georgian wine into the Russian federation will be lifted. "Certainly we don't have any interest in having bad relations with our neighbors," he told CNN.
Mikheil Saakashvili says he knows his country needs to make changes. But he argued Monday that the election that returned him to Georgia's presidency for a second term showed that the former Soviet republic was on the road to becoming a European democracy. "I believe there are many aspects that need to be criticized," Saakashvili said in an interview. "This is still a country in transition, this is still not a full-fledged, very well-formed, crystallized society. We still have lots of things to do. But I think we are on the right track and this election has just proved that." While much of Georgia took a break from months of political tension to celebrate Orthodox Christmas on Monday, Saakashvili's interview focused on the future and his delicate position after winning a second term. His victory, announced late Sunday, was uncomfortably narrow. His opponents, citing fraud, have promised prolonged protests. Saakashvili, 40, a close ally of Washington, has been under pressure to prove he remains committed to democracy. Late last year, he ordered the dispersal of anti-government protests, imposed a state of emergency and shut down an independent television station. Although monitors pointed to an array of violations in the election Saturday, including cases of multiple voting, they said that over all it was in accordance with democratic standards. With more than 85 percent of the precincts counted, Saakashvili had 51.94 percent of the vote - just clearing the 50 percent threshold for a first-round victory, the Central Elections Commission said Monday. His main challenger, Levan Gachechiladze, had 25.19 percent. Both candidates went to church Sunday for a midnight liturgy that was broadcast live on national television. Saakashvili offered his hand to Gachechiladze, who shook it.
With more than two-thirds of votes counted in Georgia's snap presidential election, official tallies showed Mikheil Saakashvili still on course for a second term, but his razor-thin first-round win and his surprising loss among voters in Tbilisi suggest that he returns with a more ambiguous mandate than before.
Georgia's Central Election Commission is still counting ballots from the January 5 presidential balloting. They showed Saakashvili -- who called early elections after his widely criticized crackdown on opposition protests in November -- leading with around 52 percent of the vote nationwide, compared to around 27 percent for his main rival, united opposition candidate Levan Gachechiladze. In order to secure a first-round victory, Saakashvili needs 50 percent plus one vote. Speaking to reporters late on January 6, Central Election Commission Chairman Levan Tarkhnishvili said final results were not likely to change dramatically, and that a runoff probably would not be needed. With most of the votes in Tbilisi counted, it appeared that it was Gachechiladze with the upper hand, leading in eight of the capital's 10 districts. "I expected much more, of course," Alexander Rondeli, a political analyst, said in admitting his surprise. "Saakashvili had an active and energetic campaign, during which -- in contrast to his opponents -- he was accentuating mostly positive issues. So I expected more, and I didn't think he was going to lose in Tbilisi."
While waiting for the final results, most analysts were already pointing to two aspects of the vote that make it unique in Georgian history. One is that this was the first presidential ballot in post-Soviet Georgia based on genuine political competition, in which -- in contrast to previous contests -- there was not a single powerful candidate likely to sweep close to 100 percent of the vote. The other is that the January 5 election received the highest marks from international observers to date in Georgia. In a preliminary statement the day after the vote, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other bodies concluded that while there were significant challenges that still needed to be addressed, the election was "in essence consistent with most international standards for democratic elections." This sentiment, however, is not shared by the nine-party opposition coalition that was backing Gachechiladze. The coalition claims the authorities are trying to manipulate the election results in order to avoid going to a second round. Gachechiladze and his supporters say they have evidence of irregularities during the vote, and warn that they will begin holding daily protest rallies beginning on January 8. Analyst Rondeli said he did not expect the rallies to be large in scale. Georgians, he suggested, were tired of such protests. Many Georgians, he added, were pleased to see Saakashvili and Gachechiladze standing side by side at an Orthodox Christmas service held on January 6 in the Sameba (Holy Trinity) Cathedral. For Rondeli, this was a sign that tensions might gradually be giving way to more cordial relations between Georgia's political rivals. "I was very pleased to watch how...at the Sameba Cathedral, Saakashvili shook hands with Gachechiladze, who smiled at him in return," Rondeli said. "This gives very good cause for optimism; it's a sign that our political culture will become more sophisticated from now on."
Two nonbinding plebiscites were also held during the presidential vote. One asked voters whether 2008 parliamentary elections should be held in the spring or fall. The second was meant to gauge public support for the country's NATO membership bid. The Central Election Commission has not started counting the plebiscite results, but exit polls suggested that some 61 percent of those who voted were in favor of NATO membership. That figure is somewhat lower than was expected, as the prospect of NATO membership had earlier enjoyed virtually overwhelming support in Georgia. Rondeli said such a result could have been caused by general discontent with Saakashvili's administration. "I expected more," Rondeli said. "This seems to be a result of general sentiments that 'if this government wants it, we'll vote against it.' This is a very negative aspect." Whatever the outcome, there is reason to believe that Georgia is entering a new era of political diversity. Georgia's human rights ombudsman, Sozar Subari, said the 60 percent turnout was a positive sign. "The turnout was very high -- and with this, [Georgia's] population asserted that it is participating in the governance of this country, which was a very important thing," Subari said. "Despite the fact that during the campaign, and on election day, there were cases of utilizing administrative resources, overall, the actual voting occurred in a normal way, and the high level of public participation did not allow anyone to falsify the vote in any significant way." Subari concluded that it is therefore "possible to say that the final result that will emerge will more or less reflect the real attitudes held by the population."
Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili hailed his election win as a triumph for democracy on Monday but his defeated opponent said it was rigged and was gearing up to hold mass protests in the capital. Saakashvili received valuable endorsements when the United States followed the European Union and NATO -- two blocs the pro-Western leader wants Georgia to join -- in giving Saturday's presidential election a qualified welcome. Western governments hope to avoid turbulence in Georgia because it lies on the route of a pipeline which will soon pump 1 million barrels of oil a day to world markets and it is the scene of a tussle for influence between Russia and the West. Election chiefs said the Georgian leader had won just over 50 percent of the vote. That was about twice the support of his nearest rival, opposition leader Levan Gachechiladze, and just enough to avoid a second round run-off. But the mandate for his second term is smaller than when he was first elected, signalling disillusionment with the man who had been a hero four years ago when he ousted his discredited predecessor in what was dubbed the "Rose Revolution". Speaking in an interview with Reuters, Saakashvili said Georgia's fledgling democracy had passed its toughest test yet. "We can have free and fair elections, good elections, clean elections and with basically a very competitive environment. It (the result) could have gone the other way around," he said. "From that point of view it's an achievement ... Political process prevailed over street passions." Gachechiladze and his supporters plan to gather for a protest in Tbilisi on Tuesday and they say they will stay on the streets until the election is annulled. They said Saakashvili used his position as incumbent to skew the vote in his favour, that opposition supporters were intimidated on polling day and the count was fraudulent. Some ballots were still being counted late on Monday. In November, opposition protests against Saakashvili's rule gathered 100,000 people at their peak. He sent in riot police with tear gas and rubber bullets, doing damage to his democratic credentials that he is trying to repair. "Clearly some of the opposition want to protest," a Western diplomat said. "It could be a bumpy ride."
The United States praised the vote, but it urged the Georgian government to investigate voting irregularities highlighted by a team of international observers. "We congratulate the people of Georgia," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement. "We agree ... that this was the first genuinely competitive presidential election in Georgia." EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana called the vote "truly competitive", and a NATO spokesman echoed a report by Western observers that the election was broadly fair. Western diplomats used to classify Georgia as a "failed state". Under Saakashvili, a 40-year-old lawyer trained in the United States, it has a functioning government, annual economic growth is in double digits and foreign investment is booming. But while the West has lauded his reforms, large sections of the 4.5 million population say that they have not felt the benefits and that Saakashvili shows scorn for democratic freedoms and the rights of ordinary people. His opponents do not though dispute his pro-Western stance, which has led to hostile relations with Russia. Georgia will hold a parliamentary election later this year and analysts say Saakashvili's party could lose its majority. Saakashvili said his programme of liberal economic reforms would continue but acknowledged his administration needed to listen more. "We should become more inclusive," he said.
Lawmaker from the ruling party Levan Bezhashvili, who is chairman of the parliament’s committee for legal issues, said that the nine-party opposition coalition seemed to choose way of “pressure and violence” which, as he said, was part of business tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili’s scenario of unrests. He made these remarks after a fierce verbal spat between the leaders of the nine-party opposition coalition, including their presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze, and chairman of the Central Election Commission Levan Tarkhnishvili on January 8. Gachechiladze and other opposition leaders were shouting at Tarkhnishvili accusing him of manipulating election results through falsifying original vote summary protocols. MP Bezhashvili, however, alleged that protocols from some precincts presented by the opposition in which Gachechiladze has most of the votes, could have been falsified by the opposition itself. “We suppose that the opposition-nominated members of precinct election commissions might be involved in fabrication. Now, the opposition is carrying out a scenario, which was unveiled by Patarkatsishvili before the elections, when he said that two bags of false ballot papers were necessary to trigger public unrests based of these false bulletins,” Bezhashvili said. He said that “irritated” by positive conclusions made by the international election observation mission, the opposition had chosen aggressive tactics, “like bursting into the CEC, violence and pressure.” “Such violent methods have not yielded results in any country, and naturally they will not work in our country as well,” he added.
The authorities have accused opposition leaders on January 8 of undertaking “unlawful act” and “blackmailing” the Central Election Commission (CEC). “No one will ever be able to exert unlawful pressure on the activities of the independent body [CEC],” Eka Tkeshelashvili, the justice minister, said. Remarks came after presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze and other opposition leaders from the nine-party coalition marched into CEC chairman Levan Tarkhnishvili’s office on January 8 and accused him in a fierce verbal spat of rigging and manipulating election results. Tkeshelashvili condemned the opposition’s move as “an attempt of blackmail” and “obvious violation.” “Naturally, this is a very regretful political act when the leaders of political parties are making such obvious violations by which they are not only damaging the reputation of our country, but also insulting the Georgian people,” Tkeshelashvili said. She has dismissed the opposition’s allegations about ballot rigging as totally groundless and claimed that entire post-election procedures, including vote counting and compiling vote summary protocols was transparent and carried out with the participation of the opposition members of the election administrations. “The precinct commissions and Central Election Commission are managed collectively [with participation of representatives of the opposition parties],” Tkeshelashvili said. “So it is absolutely untrue when they [opposition] try to portray as if they are not involved in the process and only one person [CEC chief] has a decisive role in the commission’s work.” The opposition has claimed that original vote summary protocols of the precincts were falsified in the mid-level election administration – the District Election Commission and the CEC chairman did nothing to prevent that.
Opposition Outrage over ‘TV Silence’
Mikhail Saakashvili says a weekend election that has given him another term as president has made Georgia a beacon of democracy. His critics, however, maintain Saturday's vote was rigged, and opposition parties are planning a protest today in Tblisi. Saakashvili has shrugged off the claims: "I think some of the criticism we have got lately was a little bit hasty. I think it was more or less based on a lack of information and clichés. I think many things became much clearer later. "But certainly this election has proven once more Georgia's democratic credentials. It has proven that Georgia is really indeed a beacon of democracy for this part of the world." International observers say that while overall democratic standards were met, an array of problems need to be addressed. Tina Khidasheli, an opposition leader, said: "I already have a hundred thousand votes falsified, documented, falsified, with stamps, signatures and with numbers changed on the second level. I promise to the whole world that wants to make Saakashvili a winner that this case will not work in this situation today in Georgia, and there will be a second round in Georgia." Saakashvili is promising to reach out to the opposition to have what he calls a more "inclusive government". He also says he wants to improve relations with Russia.
Thousands of people on Sunday protested early election results that indicated Mikhail Saakashvili would narrowly win a second term as Georgia's president despite criticism he'd backtracked on his commitment to democracy. The influential election observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe gave the election a mixed assessment, saying that it was generally in line with democratic commitments but revealed ``significant challenges.'' It pointed especially to ``an inequitable campaign environment'' due to state activities overlapping Saakashvili's campaign. Protesters, many of whom filled a square in the capital, charged the vote was rigged. Opposition leaders said the campaign was held under unfair conditions and claimed widespread violations during the vote. With about 8 percent of precincts counted, Saakashvili had 55.23 percent of the vote, and his main challenger Levan Gachechiladze had 23.86 percent, according to the Central Elections Commission. An exit poll also indicated a slim majority for Saakashvili. A candidate needs an absolute majority to win in the first round; if Saakashvili slips below 50 percent in the final results, a runoff will be held in two weeks. The U.S.-educated Saakashvili was seeking a new mandate and fighting to preserve his democratic standing. He shocked his Western allies when he violently dispersed anti-government demonstrations in November and shut down an independent television station. Gachechiladze, speaking on television early Sunday, claimed he had won in most precincts and that the vote count was being held under conditions of ``terror.'' He called urged ``all of Georgia to come to make sure we don't lose our country.'' Some 5,000 people showed up for an opposition demonstration in the center of Tbilisi and their number was growing. However, Georgia was preparing to celebrate Orthodox Christmas Sunday night - one of the most important holidays here - and many could feel reluctant to cancel holiday plans for the sake of protests. Saakashvili's supporters poured onto the streets late Saturday, tooting car horns and waving white-and-red national flags, celebrating victory based on exit poll results. While still waiting for official results, Saakashvili called for reconciliation in a speech to supporters at a celebratory concert. ``If the final results confirm that I have won in the first round, then I will assume the honor and responsibility to serve all of Georgia for the next five years,'' he said. ``I'm extending my hand to those who voted for me and to those who took part in the elections,'' he said.
Observers on the 2008 Presidential Elections in Georgia
In a statement issued on January 7 the U.S. State Department called on Georgian politicians “to work peacefully and responsibly for a democratic Georgia.” "We agree with the European Union and the International Election Observer Mission that this was the first genuinely competitive presidential election in Georgia. Turnout was high in spite of inclement weather,” the statement said. “International monitors identified significant problems that must be corrected. We urge the Government of Georgia to investigate all allegations of irregularities and to work with all political forces to address the challenges and shortcomings identified by international observers prior to parliamentary elections expected this spring.” The statement made a reference to the preliminary findings of the international observation mission, which described the January 5 presidential polls in Georgia as essentially consistent with most OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards for democratic elections.
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) said it had filed 230 complaints with the election administration, demanding it invalidate the results from 30 polling stations. GYLA, which fielded 400 election observers in Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi and Khelvachauri, said it wanted the election administration to annual results from some precincts in Vake and Saburtalo (both districts in Tbilisi), Kutaisi and Khelvachauri, where, it maintained, “grave violations had been observed.” “If our demand is met, it is difficult at this stage to say whether it will have an effect on the overall result of the election,” Giorgi Chkheidze, head of GYLA, said on January 7. In the two Tbilisi districts mentioned by GYLA, candidate Levan Gachechiladze tends to have the lead. In the other areas, incumbent candidate Mikheil Saakashvili has a slight edge. He also said that despite some procedural violations on election day, in general the polls were held without any “mass violations.” “So we can say that the election was held properly and is valid,” Chkheidze said.
BRUSSELS - NATO and the European Union welcomed on Monday the conduct of Georgia's election in which incumbent President Mikhail Saakashvili claimed victory, but demanded that allegations of irregularities be cleared up fast. "The European Union congratulates the Georgian people for the peaceful conduct of the elections," EU President Slovenia said in a statement, noting observers had deemed arrangements "in essence consistent" with international standards. "The EU urges Georgia to take all necessary steps to address the identified shortcomings in order to ensure successful parliamentary elections later this year," it said, citing the need to boost media freedom and the independence of the judiciary and state institutions. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana called the election "truly competitive" but said allegations of irregularities -- made by Saakashvili rivals who accuse him of rigging Saturday's vote in his favour -- should be cleared up thoroughly. NATO, which Georgia wants to join, welcomed what it said was the international monitors' view that the vote was a "viable expression" of Georgian voters' free choice, but said it should quickly address irregularities cited by monitors. "NATO will continue to deepen its intensified dialogue with Georgia and support further efforts to meet Euro Atlantic standards," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said, referring to existing partnership discussions with Tbilisi. Elections officials said Saakashvili won the vote outright with 52.8 percent, almost twice as much as his nearest challenger Levan Gachechiladze. Western monitors said there had been violations but that the vote was a true expression of Georgians' will. However on Sunday Gachechiladze urged supporters to protest against the result. Georgians also voted on January 5 to say if their ex-Soviet state should join NATO. The official result is not known but is widely expected to be a resounding 'yes'. The country hopes an alliance summit in April will encourage its ambitions, yet diplomats said Saakashvili's clampdown on opposition media and heavy-handed crushing of street protests late last year had severely damaged Georgia's chances of winning a promise of NATO membership at the summit in Bucharest. However, they did not exclude some kind of encouragement and said much would depend on how it handled the presidential vote. EU membership for Georgia is a much more distant goal, with no specific timeframe identified.
The January 5 presidential election in Georgia was neither free nor fair, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Sunday. “Media sources, non-governmental organizations and opposition figures have reported numerous cases of violations of the electoral laws by the authorities,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said. “It comes as no surprise considering the entire electoral campaign, which can hardly be described as “free and fair.” It was actually launched against the background of a state of emergency. The presidential race was marked by the widespread use of administrative resources, open pressure on opposition candidates and severe limitations on their access to financial and media sources.” “Under such conditions, it is absolutely understandable why the supporters of opposition candidates expressed bewilderment, when the ex-president [Mikheil Saakashvili] announced himself the winner without even waiting for early official results.” Speaking in a Tbilisi concert hall to cheering supporters, who, on the basis of exit poll results, were celebrating his apparent victory, Saakashvili said: “We will wait for the official results from the Central Election Commission. However, the indications from independent exit polls conducted according to international standards show that we are winning in the first round. Again, we will wait for the final results.” The Russian Foreign Ministry also criticized an assessment given earlier on Sunday by the coordinator of the OSCE short-term election observation mission, U.S. Congressman Alcee L. Hastings. “Premature remarks made by U.S. Congressman Hastings about “the triumph of Georgian democracy” are superficial,” it said.
Political leaders in Georgia should show "responsibility, political maturity and respect for the democratic process," Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, said in a statement on January 6. “Yesterday’s presidential elections in Georgia were closely watched by international observers and the central electoral commission is yet to publish the official results,” he said. “In theses circumstances, Georgian political leaders should show responsibility, political maturity and respect for the democratic process. Calling for mass protests before the official results are known and before the international observers have made public their assessment of the elections is both premature and immature. If the opposition has any evidence to back their allegations of electoral fraud, they should give it to international observers and use the procedures which are guaranteed by the Georgian constitution.”