|Voter casts their ballot in Tbilisi’s Isani
constituency on October 1.
By-elections are being held in the Adjarian towns of Kobuleti, Batumi and Shuakhevi; the western Georgian town of Tkibuli and Tbilisi’s Isani district. There are a total of 165,404 eligible voters registered in these five constituencies, according to the Central Election Commission.
Major competitors of the ruling National Movement party’s MP nominations are four opposition parties - New Rights, Conservatives, Freedom and Labor Party, which banded together and chose a single candidates for each of the constituency through primaries, which were held on September 17. Analysts say that a victory for the opposition in even one constituency should be regarded as a success.
Chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC) Gia Kavtaradze said at a news briefing early in the morning on October 1 that the polls are being held in “a normal atmosphere without any procedural violations.”
He said that the highest voter turnout so far was reported in the Tkibuli and Kobuleti single-mandate constituencies.
Last year’s amendments to the Election Code dropped the provision requiring at least 1/3 voter turnout to make MP by-elections valid. As a result, a candidate who garners 1/3 of the total votes cast during the polls will be the winner, regardless of voter turnout.
Gia Kavtaradze also said that the CEC will announce early results of the by-elections on October 2.
These elections are being monitored by 62 local and 31 international observers, according to the Central Election Commission. The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) dispatched its observers in every precinct of all five constituencies. Other watchdog organizations, including the New Generation – New Initiative, mainly have mobile groups of monitors moving from one precinct to another.
|These outdoor precincts were set up on
September 17 for the primaries, through
which the four opposition parties chose
single candidates to run in MP by-elections.
The National Movement nominated its candidates on August 10. Jemal Inaishvili, President of the Georgian Chamber of Commerce, is running in the Batumi constituency and Koba Khabazi, the ex-head of the Local Government and Regional Policy Coordination Office at the President’s Administration - in the Kobuleti district; Elguja Makaridze, ex-member of the President’s Council of Advisers – in the Shuakhevi constituency; Pavle Kublashvili, President’s former Parliamentary Secretary - in the Tkibuli constituency in western Georgia. Bidzina Bregadze, who until recently served as deputy interior minister, is running to represent Tbilisi’s Isani district.
Other political parties which nominated candidates are the Georgian United Communist Party (Zhiuli Sikmashvili in the Isani constituency and Teimuraz Samnidze in the Batumi constituencies) and the National-Democratic Party (Giorgi Gogniashvili in the Isani constituency).
Election campaigning by the political parties was relatively moderate. President Saakashvili made no secrete that these MP by-elections are of vital importance, describing them as a test for the authorities and the ruling National Movement party.
In its pre-election campaign, the ruling party was focused mostly not on its individual MP nominations, but rather on the fact that they are supported by the authorities, especially by President Saakashvili, who chairs the National Movement party.
This trend was reflected in the ruling party’s TV ads, which recall the achievements made by the government since the 2003 Rose Revolution and called for the support of voters to further advance development in the country. President Saakashvili dominated nearly each frame of the ad and only in the end is there a brief presentation of the names of the ruling party’s MP nominations.
President Saakashvili is currently visiting the Adjara Autonomous Republic. He will stay there on election day as well. “I will not pretending to say that I am neutral. Of course I am interested in these elections. These elections will indicate whether the government is on the right track or not… Of course we need the support of the population,” Saakashvili said in Ajdara on September 19.
Victory in the elections in Adjara’s three constituencies is of special importance for the authorities, as these polls are being held 17 months after the peaceful revolution in the autonomy which ousted Adjara’s former autocratic leader Aslan Abashidze.
“There have been some indirect violations during the election campaign from the authorities. For example, President Saakashvili and Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli going to the districts where the elections are scheduled, accompanying MP nominations to attend some kind of event, including opening of a new sites etc., can be viewed as an indirect violation. But as no calls for support to their nomination were reported, this can not directly be regarded as a violation of the law,” Tamar Zhvania of election watchdog ISFED told Civil Georgia.
But the opposition Conservative and New Rights parties accused the authorities on September 29 of bribing voters in the Kobuleti constituency. Opponents claim that Koba Khabazi of the National Movement, who is running in Kobuleti, was bribing voters by providing free medical consultancies and free medicines to the residents of the Kobuleti district, starting on September 8.
The Central Election Commission considered the complaint at a session on September 29 and turned down an appeal demanding that Koba Khabazi be barred from running in the election in Kobuleti. “We deemed the evidence [against Khabazi] insufficient for revoking Koba Khabazi’s registration,” Gia Kavtaradze, the Chairman of the Central Election Commission, said.
Another accusation voiced by the opposition parties concerns voter lists. “There are ‘dead souls’ in the election lists and the situation [regarding the voter lists] is almost similar to that one which was on the eve of November 2 parliamentary elections [in 2003 which then led to the Rose Revolution],” MP Davit Gamkrelidze, the leader of New Rights party said at a news conference on September 29.
But the CEC dismissed these allegations as groundless. “We have not received any official complaint from the opposition parties regarding the voter lists so far. If they had something to complain they should have appealed to us. To talk about it just two days before the election is simply a PR campaign,” CEC Chairman Gia Kavtaradze said at a news conference on September 29.
He said that the CEC is ready to hold elections and vowed that the CEC “will not allow ballot rigging.”