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Your guide to the January 5 presidential election

By Messenger Staff

Friday, January 4

Then-president Mikheil Saakashvili called for tomorrow’s snap presidential election on November 8, the day after police forcefully dispersed anti-government protestors in Tbilisi and a state of emergency was declared.

The anti-government protests, organized by a coalition of opposition parties galvanized by the September arrest of ex-minister turned opposition figure Irakli Okruashvili, began on November 2.

One of protestors’ original demands was for parliamentary elections to be rescheduled for spring 2008—the time they were originally slated for prior to constitutional amendments pushing them back to the fall. Demonstrators soon escalated their demands, however, to Saakashvili’s resignation. The rally dragged on with dwindling numbers until riot police moved in to clear them off the streets on November 7, with the resulting violence escalating throughout the day.

Voters on January 5 will also take part in two referendums: one asking whether parliamentary elections should be rescheduled for spring, the other on whether they support Georgian membership in NATO.

The candidates

1. Levan Gachechiladze, United National Council (nine-party opposition coalition);
2. Badri Patarkatsishvili, independent;
3. Davit Gamkrelidze, New Rights Party;
4. Shalva Natelashvili, Labor Party;
5. Mikheil Saakashvili, United National Movement;
6. Giorgi Maisashvili, Party of Future;
7. Irina Sarishvili, Imedi Movement;

The rules
• If no single candidate wins more than half the vote, a run-off is scheduled for two weeks later
• There is no absentee voting, though polling stations have been opened abroad
• Georgians can register to vote on election day with an ID card and proof of residence
• All election campaigning must halt 24 hours before polls open

Official election bodies

A total of 3474 polling stations will open across Georgia, with 41 opening in Georgian embassies and consulates overseas, according to the Central Election Commission (CEC).

Polling stations open at 7 a.m. Tbilisi time, and votes can be cast from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. The CEC will begin publishing voting results from January 6, 2 a.m. onwards.

According to CEC figures released at a press conference yesterday, there is a total of 3 352 448 registered voters, 27 210 of which are abroad. The number of Georgian troops serving in Iraq and Kosovo who are eligible to vote is 2 273.

CEC officials were dispatched to Kosovo and Iraq on January 2 to oversee voting by Georgian soldiers deployed there.

Exit polling and Parallel Vote Tabulation

An exit poll, commissioned by the private television stations Rustavi 2, Mze, and Adjara TV and the state-owned public broadcaster, will be conducted by two Georgian-based think tanks, in collaboration with the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs and Ilia Chavchavadze State University.

The exit poll project has attracted criticism from opposition campaigners, who claim it will be biased in favor of Saakashvili, citing concern that the impartiality of those managing the poll is ‘questionable.’ However, the team conducting the poll has invited political parties to send representatives to monitor the process.

Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT)—a process in which observers count votes at the same time election officials do—will be conducted by the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy. The New Generation-New Initiative NGO also plans to carry out PVT in all election districts in the country and will dispatch a total of 1500 observers on Election Day.

Both organizations say they will release their results within hours of polling stations closing.

Assessments of the campaign

In its second interim report, released December 28, an OSCE Election Observer Mission describes Georgia as having a “highly polarized political environment” in the run-up to the elections. “The campaign environment has been soured by allegations of use by Saakashvili of budgetary funds, unequal campaign conditions, intimidation, and vote buying,” the report reads.

A report by the National Democratic Institute also describes the political environment as polarized, adding, “Many Georgians expressed to us that this polarization may undermine confidence in, and challenge the credibility of the upcoming presidential poll.”

CEC chair Levan Tarkhnishvili stated that presidential candidates have had “more or less” equal advertising opportunities and television airtime during their campaigns, at a press conference on January 3.

The day after

Most of the opposition campaigns are scheduling post-election rallies to release their own count of the votes. If Saakashvili avoids a run-off by officially winning a majority of the votes on January 5, opposition leaders are likely to publicize conflicting results and claim the vote was rigged.

The January 5 election itself looks unlikely to resolve the recent upsurge in political unrest—instead, the country’s stability and democratic tendencies will be most put to the test in the days after a winner is declared.