The opposition claimed on January 7 that discrepancies had been revealed between the actual vote summary protocols of some precincts and figures released by the Central Election Commission (CEC).
Tina Khidasheli of the Republican Party, part of the nine-party opposition coalition backing presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze, has alleged there were cases when figures indicated in “original vote summary protocols” had been changed at District Election Commissions in favor of the incumbent candidate.
Khidasheli then presented, what she called, “an original summary protocol” of Batumi precinct number 73, which showed 205 votes for Gachechiladze and 115 votes for Mikheil Saakashvili. “However, after passing through the mid-level election administration - the District Election Commission - the figures were different. According to the new figure, Gachechiladze has now 119 votes and Mikheil Saakashvili 550 votes. There are many similar cases in Adjara.”
There are 76 District Electoral Commissions, each composed of five non-politically affiliated members. (The opposition maintains they are in fact only nominally so). Unlike Precinct Election Commissions (PEC) and the CEC, the opposition parties have no representatives in the DECs.
Levan Tarkhnishvili, the CEC chairman, has dismissed Khidasheli's allegations, saying they were ludicrous. He said the CEC was posting on its website not only the figures, but also jpg files of the summary protocols of every precinct. “And there are signatures of all precinct members on those protocols,” he said.
Once the counts at a precinct are completed, precinct members approve the summary protocol with a simple majority of votes. A protocol should be signed by all 13 members and if any of them disagrees, he or she should attach a special note on the protocol. Khidasheli, however, has maintained that even the signatures were forged.
She has also alleged that in many provincial precincts, opposition members at polling stations were intimidated and pressured by the local police and authorities, forcing them not to take vote summary protocols. According to the law, not only representatives of candidates or political parties, but observers as well have the right to request a copy of summary protocols.
“Our representative struggled to obtain those protocols,” Khidasheli said. “While our representatives were entitled to take protocols from polling stations, in many cases, especially in Kvemo Kartli, they failed to do so because of intimidation. So we do not have original protocols through which we would have been able to prove ballot rigging at those precincts. The same has happened in Akhalkalaki, Ninotsminda and in many other precincts in Javakheti region.”
She showed journalists 180 ballot papers on which number 5 – incumbent candidate Mikheil Saakashvili’s number on the ballot papers - was marked. Khidasheli claimed that opposition representatives managed “to snatch” these “fake ballot papers” at a precinct in Senaki, a town in the western region of Samegrelo. She said the original intention had been to stuff the ballot boxes with the “fake ballots.”
Khidasheli also said that in ethnic minority regions – Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti – voter turnout was “unbelievably high,” exceeding 90% “and in some cases turnout was even 100%.” In those precincts, she said, the incumbent candidate had received over 90% of the vote. She said despite having an opposition presence at every polling station, many of them, especially in Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti had to turn a blind eye to many irregularities because of intimidation.
Khidasheli also said that it was highly suspicious that the number of invalid ballot papers in many precincts in Shida Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti was extremely low.
“In contrast, in Mtatsminda – which is the smallest district in Tbilisi – 432 ballot papers were invalidated because they were filled in inaccurately by voters,” she said. “There is an absolutely different picture in the precincts in Ninotsminda [in Samtskhe-Javakheti], where only one, or at most, two ballot papers were invalidated; this means that voters there were almost 100% accurate. This again indicates that faked, pre-marked ballot papers were used… Vano Merabishvili [the interior minister], who's from that region, was responsible.”
Khidasheli stressed that the nine-party opposition coalition did not claim it had won a majority of the vote in Kvemo Kartli or Samtskhe-Javakheti. “Not at all; we are not saying that. The only thing we are saying is that Saakashvili has stolen some of our votes there and we won't accept that,” Khidasheli said.
She said that the opposition intended to challenge every violation in the courts. According to the election code, the CEC can not summarize election results until all disputes in the courts have been resolved.
“We are determined to fight for each and every vote. We will respond to each and every violation and we will not allow Saakashvili and the CEC to falsify the Georgian people’s vote,” she said.
With Saakashvili, according to CEC results, with a narrow nation-wide majority, every single vote may be decisive in a down-to-the-wire standoff between the authorities and opposition, whose major goal at this stage is to secure a second round of polling in two weeks.
Levan Tarkhnishvili, the CEC chairman, however, said late on January 6 that there was almost no chance of a run-off. He said Saakashvili would get over 52% of the vote.
He explained that the figures were based on information received from almost every precinct throughout Georgia. Although some of this information was based on official vote tallies sent by the precincts, Tarkhnishvili admitted, that some of it had been conveyed verbally by precinct members - with no official vote summary protocols having actually been sent.
The election code, however, reads: “Election administration officials shall be prohibited from making announcements on the preliminary results of the elections, if those results are not placed on the [CEC] web-site under the established procedures.”