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Time to Focus on Parliamentary Elections – U.S. Diplomat
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 19 Jan.'08 / 19:52

It is now time to refocus to ensure that parliamentary elections this spring are free and fair, Matthew Bryza, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, said.

Speaking at a news conference in Tbilisi on January 19, the U.S. diplomat said that the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi had sent out 20 teams across Georgia to investigate claims of election irregularities. “And after extensive, careful work our conclusion was that there had not in fact been large-scale fraud that altered the outcome of the election,” he said.

On January 18 the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission issued an interim report, which slams the post-election process, including vote tabulation. The U.S. diplomat said he had not yet had a chance to read the report, although he had been briefed on certain elements of the report.

“Certainly we are disappointed by reports of significant irregularities, serious problems in vote counts. By the way our own investigations, our own research had turned up some evidence of some serious, I would still say, irregularities – that’s the term of ours. But we have not discovered yet any instances where there is credible evidence of significant fraud; we have not seen that,” Bryza said.

Bryza has been heavily criticized by the opposition recently, especially after he said on Georgian TV a day after the January 5 election, at least according to the translation, that the election was held without any major violations and the polls were democratic. In an interview with a local newspaper this week, Tina Khidasheli of the Republican Party, slammed the U.S. position, saying "as everybody knows" it was largely due to Bryza being Saakashvili's “personal friend.”

The U.S. diplomat was also criticized by Davit Gamkrelidze, leader of the New Rights Party. “It is  not serious when my friend Matt Bryza tells the opposition just a day or so after the election that it is not right to act in this way [apparently referring to Bryza's calls to respect the election results] and I will definitely let him know of my complaint when I meet him,” MP Gamkrelidze said.

Bryza addressed the complaints at the news conference, claiming a mistranslation had distorted the meaning of his words. This is not the first time he has claimed to have been misinterpreted.

“In my own statements of January 6 I tried to be very careful and what I have said was that if the election is determined to be free and fair then it is the responsibility of every Georgian to honor the results. But if the results were not free and fair then Georgia would find itself in a situation that was similar to November 2003,” Bryza said. “For some reason, some of our friends here decided to interpret those remarks as the United States government determining on 6th of January that the election had been free and fair. But the sign that we are comfortable with recognizing the outcome of the election happened when President Bush called President-elect Saakashvili to congratulate [him] and that was only on Monday [January 14].”

He said initially he had thought it was very strange that someone in Georgia was thinking that “some humble American diplomat could have played any direct role in their own determination of their own political future.”

“Then I thought [a] little bit more and I realized that this was [as] a result of mistranslation. At that time I never deemed the Georgian election free and fair. What I said was we do not know whether the election was free and fair,” he added.

Bryza also commented on an opposition exhibition named “the museum of Georgian-American lies in honor of Matthew Bryza.” The exhibition, opened in Tbilisi on January 12, features alleged falsified vote summary protocols.

Bryza said he found it “extremely entertaining.” “And I found it a bit farcical that just a humble, diplomatic functionary like me could possibly be of interest to anybody in the election that as important as one for the President of Georgia,” he added.

On the upcoming parliamentary elections, the U.S. diplomat said the conduct of the elections and the campaign would “have a major impact” on NATO’s assessment of Georgia’s democratic reform process - criteria for membership.

“We urge everybody who cares about democracy in Georgia – be in the government or in the opposition – to shift their focus now on doing everything possible and taking every conceivable step to make sure that the parliamentary elections are free and fair and that the procedures are much improved,” he added.

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