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Opposition coalition wants repeat presidential election

By Winston Featherly
Thursday, March 6
The opposition is calling for a redo of the presidential election, saying the top foreign observer mission’s conclusions support allegations that the vote was rigged.

Government officials say the results of the election, in which incumbent Mikheil Saakashvili won 53 percent of the vote and a second term, reflect the will of the people.

The OSCE/ODIHR final report on the January 5 election, released March 4, roughly hews to the observer organization’s initial verdict that the election was essentially democratic but far from ideal.

Leaders of the eight-party opposition coalition cited the OSCE report in saying nearly a quarter of precincts had bad or very bad vote counts, and that more than a third of precincts did not follow the rules in their count on January 5.

“[The OSCE report] represents a major victory for the Georgian people in the international arena. We declare that from now on, Mikheil Saakashvili is not the legitimate president of Georgia in the eyes of the international community, and we demand a repeat of the presidential election,” opposition coalition member Koba Davitashvili, leader of the People’s Party, said in a press conference yesterday.

Conservative MP and coalition member Zviad Dzidziguri says street protests will restart on Rustaveli Avenue from March 9, as they’re “the only thing the authorities understand.”

The authorities say the opposition are willfully misunderstanding the OSCE report.

“They are trying to fool Georgians by misrepresenting the OSCE,” prominent ruling party MP Giga Bokeria told the newspaper yesterday.

The final report, echoing the initial post-election assessment, said the January 5 election was “in essence” democratic, but revealed “urgent” challenges.

“The vote count was evaluated less positively than the polling process,” the report says.

23 percent of observed counts were bad or very bad, with instances of direct tampering witnessed in eight percent of counts. Around one in three precincts, the OSCE reports, had problems completing the results protocol, and nearly one in five precincts went back to revise their tallies.

Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze told reporters yesterday that the report’s criticisms, most of which were noted in an interim OSCE/ODHIR report issued January 18, were “nothing new.”

“There is nothing [in the final OSCE report] which would put the [outcome of the] presidential election into question,” she said, citing a recent meeting with the head of ODIHR.

The OSCE concluded that “this election represented the first genuinely competitive post-independence presidential election [but] shortcomings were noted.”

Those shortcomings, according to the OSCE report, include abuse of administrative resources; the intimidation of state employees and opposition campaigners; and television news coverage which “lacked balance.”

The observers’ report seems to vindicate the opposition’s insistence that Georgian courts do not offer a viable avenue for legal challenges to election violations.

“The election administration at all levels, and the courts, did not fully and adequately consider and investigate a considerable number of complaints regarding irregularities in voting, counting and tabulation of election results...There was an apparent avoidance to substantively consider complaints,” the report reads.

“The ability of the judicial system to function as an independent body to resolve election disputes remains in question.”

Bokeria, the ruling party MP, said the OSCE’s criticisms are “well-taken” by the government. But the bottom line, he said, is that the “irregularities didn’t effect the final outcome.”

Conservative MP and opposition coalition member Kakha Kukava, however, said the OSCE came as close as it ever would to condemning the elections.

“Never does the OSCE [issue] a statement saying that the authorities are illegitimate, not in Russia, not in Armenia,” Kukava said yesterday. “More than one-third of these precincts have very important problems [in the vote counting], and Saakashvili won [an outright majority] by a small margin. Of course this gives you a basis to say the results of the election are illegitimate.”

The OSCE final report included a list of recommendations to the government on improving campaigning, voting, counting and arbitration procedures for the next election.

“We think these recommendations should become guidelines,” Kukava said.