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Controversies over voters lists

By Messenger Staff
Thursday, February 11
The date of the local elections is approaching. Now it has been officially confirmed as May 30 the disputes over the election procedures have become more raucous, with the opposition still questioning the ability of officials to hold democratic elections.

The major point at issue is the voters' lists. The opposition believes that the lists of residents submitted by the Civil Registry have been inflated to rig the elections. The ruling administration has therefore offered the opposition the opportunity to check the lists themselves, and this has caused a split in their ranks.

Voter registration has been a major point of discord in any election held in Georgia since it regained its independence. Recently the Central Election Commission claimed that there are 3.7 million voters in the country. The Civil Registry lists contain almost 3.5 million names of eligible voters residing in Georgia. However every population estimate available states that around 4 million people currently reside in Georgia, of which a certain number are under 18 and therefore ineligible to vote. Even if the real number of electors is as high as 3.5 million, this would mean that there are only half a million Georgian under 18, around 12-13% of the total population, which would mean that the Georgian people are on an irreversible path to extinction. However many challenge this, saying that at least quarter of the population must be under 18. This is the situation in most other countries and is the general assumption of international demographics. Opposition representative Irakli Melashvili has pointed out that if we believe the CEC's lists either no children are born at all in this country or they are born at voting age.

It should be mentioned that after the Rose Revolution number of the voters in Georgia increased very substantially. The voters list for January 2004, when Saakashvili was elected President, contained 2.4 million names. But the electorate has kept increasing at each election. Similarly the population of Tbilisi has increased rapidly according to the new list. Opposition MP Gia Tsagareishvili says that there are a maximum of 2 million voters in Georgia, though he presents no more evidence for the correctness of this figure than the Government does for its own.

Irakli Melashvili from the National Forum has said that the major means of manipulating the election list is forged ID cards. People loyal to the ruling party are simultaneously registered in several different places, in both the regions and the capital and even in different districts of the capital. Melashvili claims that instances of this have been observed in different cities. It is practically impossible to detect such people unless the lists are checked against who the registered occupiers of a premises are, but this is very seldom done if at all.

Voters lists have been checked ever since Georgia regained its independence. The state has now offered the opposition parties and NGOs GEL 1.2 million between them to check the list once again. 12 parties have agreed to do this and each will receive GEL 100,000. Some parties however are completely opposed to this, saying that the administration is well aware that the lists cannot be accurately checked in a such a short period of time. The list must be finalised by March 15, so the opposition will ultimately have to confirm unchecked voters as genuine and thus not be in a position to complain about anomalies subsequently. They will also be held partly responsible for the overall conduct of the elections if they help organise this aspect of them, as Soso Shatberashvili from the Labour Party has pointed out, leaving them incapable of challenging the result.

Some oppsition parties do not share these concerns and will participate in checking the lists. Letís wait and see if serious errors are found between now and March 15.