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Voter List Controversy Rolls On
/ 15 Dec.'07 / 15:39
Civil Georgia

The opposition has been maintaining that the Central Election Commission (CEC) has artificially inflated voter lists in order to rig the election – an allegation not unusual in Georgia ahead of an election.
The total number of registered voters is 3,372,836, according to the CEC. The list was compiled following door-to-door rechecks carried out by the CEC, and with data provided by the Civil Registry Agency of the Justice Ministry and the Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation - the agency charged with registering internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The 3.3 million voters constitute 76.6% of Georgia’s 4.4 million population (Statistic Department.) MP Kakha Kukava, leader of the Conservative Party – a member of the nine-party opposition coalition (backing presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze), challenged these figures, saying on December 14 that “international practice is that the total number of voters does not exceed 65% of the entire population.”

Levan Tarkhnishvili, the chairman of the CEC, has been to the forefront in defending the integrity of the voter lists. Regarding the opposition's specific point on this occasion - he has been making similar defenses since December 14 - Tarkhnishvili said it had no logic or validity. Usually two-thirds of an entire population are voters,” he said. Practice shows that the figure varies from 70 to 80%, with most western European countries having on average about 75% (calculations made based on data provided by international election watchdog IFES’ Electionguide.org portal).

Justice Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili, the chairperson of a government inter-agency group coordinating efforts to secure free elections, also defended the existing voter lists on December 14.

“The voter list was not complied in a mad rush,” she said. “Reform of the Civil Registry began in 2005. It used to be a total mess with many citizens not even having IDs at all. Since then we have overhauled the entire system, resulting in a margin of error of less than 1% in the data provided by the Civil Registry Agency. Most data for the voter list comes from the Civil Registry.”

As well as international practice, the opposition has also tried to compare unfavorably the current official number of voters with previous comparative numbers. Particular focus was placed on the fact that there was only about 2.3 million registered voters for the 2004 presidential and parliamentary elections.

“Of course [this increased number of voters] causes doubt that the voter lists were deliberately falsified,” MP Valery Gelbakhiani, presidential candidate Badri Patarkatsishvili’s campaign spokesman, said on December 14. “The authorities are deliberately rigging and fabricating voter lists.”

“The population in Georgia is declining, but the number of voters has increased by one million,” Giorgi Gugava, campaign manager for Labor Party leader and presidential candidate Shalva Natelashvili, said on December 14. “The so-called ‘dead souls’ and invented names were included in the voter lists to favor Saakashvili on polling day.”

CEC Chairman Tarkhnishvili also rejected these allegations, saying it was absolutely wrong to compare the 2004 voter list with the current one. In 2004 only those who actually turned up at the polling stations to register themselves were included on the list, which did not correspond to the actual number of voters. The current increased number is as a result of door-to-door verification and better data, he said.

The opposition, far from accepting such explanations, has instead upped the ante, damning the government for a CEC rejection of a proposal to extend the voter list verification process. The expiration of the December 13 deadline has meant that voters, parties and observer organizations are no longer able to present inaccuracies to the election administrations for correction. Opposition appointed CEC members had wanted to extend the deadline for another three days at least, but they wwere voted down by government appointed members.

“We were able to recheck only a tenth of the lists in Batumi [in Adjara] before the deadline expired and even then, we found 128 deceased people in the list,” Davit Batsikadze, the head of the nine-party opposition coalition campaign office in Batumi, said on December 15. “We are sure there are even more, so the deadline should be extended.”

Tarkhnishvili said that he personally was in favor of an extension, but he understood why the CEC had rejected it - a fear that a precedent would be set, with other deadlines, including that for the posting of voter lists in the polling stations, being challenged.

Voter registration on polling day has also been a point of contention, with the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), a local election watchdog, warning that it would increase the risk of ballot fraud. So-called ‘merry-go-round’ voting, whereby an individual casts several ballots in different polling stations, they say, would result.

Nino Burjanadze, the acting president, has tried to allay fears regarding voter lists. Speaking on December 14, she said any attempt to rig the election would amount “to political suicide” for the ruling party. They “will not let it happen,” she said.

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