Eurasia Daily Monitor

January 7, 2008 -- Volume 5, Issue 1



INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS ASSESS GEORGIA'S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
POSITIVELY

by Vladimir Socor

International observers' assessment of Georgia's January 5
presidential election is substantially positive. More than 1,000
international observers, long-term and short-term, were on hand. This is
almost certainly an all-time high ratio to a country's population for any
election in former Soviet-ruled countries. The Georgian government and
parliament had appealed to international organizations and parliaments to
send the maximum possible number of observers to assess the integrity of the
process.

The observation missions of the OSCE/ODIHR (Office of Democratic
Institutions and Human Rights), the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly, the
Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), and the European
Parliament issued their joint Statement of Preliminary Findings and
Conclusions on January 6. It assessed the election as `in essence consistent
with most OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards for
democratic elections ... This election was the first genuinely competitive
presidential election, which enabled the Georgian people to express their
political choice.'

The joint conclusions assessed Georgia's recently amended electoral
code as adequate; the operations of the Central Election Commission (CEC)
and local electoral commissions, as open and transparent; and the Georgian
authorities' attitude toward the observer missions as cooperative. The
assessment further commended the voter education campaign through national
media and the training of election officials; the accreditation of a large
number of domestic non-party observer groups; the publication of election
material in the languages of Georgia's ethnic minorities; and Parliament
Chair Nino Burjanadze's (interim head of state during the campaign)
initiative to create an Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections
to liaise with observer organizations and address concerns raised.

At the same time the assessment noted `significant challenges that
need to be addressed urgently.' As a substantive shortcoming it identified
the `sometimes blurred distinction' between state activities and the
Saakashvili campaign, which `contributed to an inequitable campaign
environment.' As procedural and organizational shortcomings, it mentioned
inconsistencies in the finger-inking procedure (a safeguard against multiple
voting) and poor organization of the vote counting. Slow counting in some
precincts, as well as snowfall causing power outages, is delaying the
announcement of the final countrywide returns by the CEC.

The joint conclusions acknowledged Georgia's `diverse media
environment, generally enabling freedom of expression and offering voters a
wide range of political views. ... Talk shows, televised debates, and
allocation of free airtime enabled voters to become familiar with candidates
' platforms.' Implicitly criticizing pro-government television channels for
coverage slanted toward National Movement candidate Mikheil Saakashvili, the
assessment also noted that the pro-opposition Imedi Television was abandoned
by part of its staff and closed temporarily by its management in connection
with the coup plot of Imedi's owner, Badri Patarkatsishvili.

Georgia's government pledged on January 6 to fully and effectively
address the concerns in the observers' preliminary conclusions and final
reports. Those final reports are normally due in two months after an
election. In Georgia's case they will coincide with the campaign for
parliamentary elections, which are likely to be held in April -- unless the
opposition derails that calendar by rejecting the presidential election.

Fixated (by long-established practice and format) on the electoral
process as such, the four organizations' assessment had nothing to say about
presidential candidate Patarkatsishvili's attempt to hijack the election and
the country through his wealth and ultimately through violence. While noting
that the Saakashvili campaign was often combined with social welfare
programs, the joint assessment ignored Patarkatsishvili's campaign promises
to spend more than $1 billion of his own wealth for social programs, if
elected. It equally ignored main opposition candidate Levan Gachechiladze's
promise to disburse that amount for social programs from his ally
Patarkatsishvili, if Gachechiladze were elected president.

Noting the campaign's `highly polarized political environment,' the
assessment does not mention the opposition leaders' resort to the language
of hatred and politics of brinkmanship in this electoral campaign -- indeed
>From the outset of its demonstrations to force anticipated elections. By
contrast, the Saakashvili campaign largely reflected its protagonist's
personal style, jovial and optimistic. Throughout these events, Western
representatives in general (including electoral observers) made no serious
attempt to discourage the opposition from using inflammatory language and
threats.

The hate factor among small parties' leaders more than any other
single factor distorted this campaign, setting it apart from all the
elections held in former Soviet-ruled countries in the last decade. As Davit
Darchiashvili, head of the Open Society-Georgia Foundation, observes, hate
speech is a problem of political culture in Georgian society, reflecting
immaturity of parts of its political class (Mze TV, January 6). Meanwhile,
opposition's supporters behaved correctly despite their leaders' incendiary
rhetoric during the campaign. However, the risk of destabilization will be
high in the coming days.

(International Election Observation Mission [OSCE/ODIHR, OSCE/PA,
PACE, European Parliament], `Statement of Preliminary Findings and
Conclusions,' January 6; Civil Georgia, Messenger, Rustavi-2 TV, January
5-7)


--Vladimir Socor

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress