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Exit polls: Government wins big

By Messenger Staff
Thursday, May 22
Early exit polls results projected a sweeping victory for the ruling party in yesterday’s parliamentary elections. Opposition leaders, who had instructed supporters to boycott the exit polling, dismissed the results as rigged.

The ruling National Movement took 63 percent of the vote nationwide, above expectations, according to early results released yesterday evening as polls closed.

Ruling party leaders refrained from immediately declaring victory, but Davit Bakradze, the leading name on the government party list, congratulated National Movement activists on "worthy and fair elections...despite all the difficulties and provocations.”

“We are ready to cooperate with all the parties which will be in parliament,” he said.

The nine-party United Opposition coalition came second with roughly 14 percent, followed by the newly-formed Christian Democrats with 9 percent and the Labor Party with under 6 percent.

Due to the margin of error, it was unclear if the moderate Republicans topped the 5 percent vote threshold for parliamentary representation.

The same exit polling showed the government also winning 63 percent across all majoritarian districts, where 75 seats—half of the new parliament—are contested in single-candidate first-past-the-post voting.

Because of the nature of this electoral system, used for the first time in this particular configuration, the government is favored to pick up more than two-thirds of the seats.

The results have a 3.5 percent margin of error, according to organizers.

The poll was conducted by a consortium of local and international groups, including Ilia Chavchavadze State University and the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS).

Opposition politicians claim those organizations are pro-government—two academics linked with exit polls in the January presidential election were given ministerial posts after President Mikheil Saakashvili’s reelection—and said their own vote counts showed different results.

“We don't trust the exit polling but if the [Central Election Commission] declares the same results, they will get a revolution,” said United Opposition member Gia Tortladze.

Republican leader Davit Usupashvili said the results were meant to legitimize rigged elections.

“We do not trust [the exit poll results] as they were created beforehand to make people used to them. We have counted the votes in parallel [vote tabulation] and these are different,” Usupashvili said.

Nearly one in three voters interviewed for the exit poll refused to answer questions.

"Given that the opposition has encouraged their supporters to boycott, I wouldn't be surprised if these numbers were still going to change significantly,” said Hans Gutbrod, who oversees some of the biggest surveys conducted in the South Caucasus as regional director for the Caucasus Research Resource Centers.

“If a lot of opposition voters simply refuse to answer, this will skew the numbers, quite possibly beyond the preliminary margin of error. So we will have to hold our breath a little longer,” he said yesterday evening after the preliminary results were released.

Givi Tevzadze, the rector of the state university, said they “don’t know yet how the boycott of the exit poll will affect the results.” He said they will speak to the interviewers, gather more data and eventually compare their results to those of the Central Election Commission.

Aimar Altosaar, a board member of Estonia’s Jaan Tonosson Institute who helped run the exit polling, said the 30 percent non-response rate was “normal.”

“Any non-response rate from 20 to 30 percent is acceptable by set standards. If it was 50 percent, that would not be normal, but if it was 5 percent it would be abnormal too,” he said, adding that he was “surprised how quiet the election was” compared to his experience in Azerbaijan, Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine.

It may not stay quiet. The United Opposition was planning to rally late last night to announce its own tally of the results.

The first official results are expected early this morning.

See the Messenger’s blog for up-to-the-minute results today.