With all the votes counted, ruling Georgian Dream coalition candidate, Tamar Khidasheli, is winning Saturday’s MP by-election in Sagarejo single-mandate constituency by a margin of just 559 votes over her closest rival from the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, Irma Inashvili, according to the Central Election Commission (CEC).
Returns from all 50 precincts in Sagarejo show GD’s Tamar Khidasheli of the Republican Party with 7,540 votes (49.5%) and Irma Inashvili, one of the leaders of the Alliance of Patriots, with 6,981 votes (45.83%).
Three independent candidates, who were also running in the race for a majoritarian MP seat in Sagarejo, have combined of 4.65%.
Most of the opposition parties, including UNM and Free Democrats, refused to field their candidates in these MP by-elections after announcing boycott in August.
Only 34.43% of 46,082 eligible voters turned out at polling stations in Sagarejo, according to CEC.
Race between Tamar Khidasheli and Irma Inashvili remained too close to call up until results from two last remaining precincts, out of Sagarejo’s total of 50 polling stations, arrived at dawn on Sunday.
Only 87 votes separated the two leading candidates with Tamar Khidasheli in lead based on results from 48 precincts.
Returns from the two precincts were delayed as Inashvili and her supporters were rallying outside the polling station in the village of Ujarma, claiming that the votes there were manipulated in favor of governing coalition’s candidate. Police did not allow activists to enter inside the polling station.
One of those precincts was special polling station, which was established ahead of by-election specifically for military service members deployed at the Mukhrovani base.
About a week before the election day, Inashvili, arguing that only two dozen out of 549 servicemen at Mukhrovani were locals from Sagarejo, was calling for scrapping this special precinct.
Inashvili was accusing Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli, who is one of the leaders of the Republican Party, of trying to manipulate poll results by votes of army service members deployed at Mukhrovani base.
MP by-election in Sagarejo was called after GD’s lawmaker Tina Khidasheli quit the legislative body following her appointment on the post of the Defense Minister in May.
This special precinct was technically attached to a polling station located in the nearby village of Ujarma, where votes cast by soldiers at Mukhrovani base were counted.
Inashvili said she would challenge the results in court and also warned of street protest rallies.
“I was in lead even without taking into account votes from Ujarma precinct,” said GD’s Tamar Khidasheli, who was head of the Tbilisi-based legal advocacy and watchdog group Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association in 2008-2010; she also denied opponent’s allegations about ballot rigging.
Defense Minister, Tina Khidasheli, who was in GD candidate’s campaign headquarters in Sagarejo, said in response to Inashvili’s allegations over manipulating with soldiers’ votes to secure victory for GD’s candidate: “It’s not a surprise at all for me if a person [referring to Inashvili], who is against the EU and against of Georgia’s NATO membership, has no trust in our soldiers, who yesterday fought in Afghanistan with NATO insignia upon their arms.”
This rhetoric, involving leveling allegations against Alliance of Patriots over being “pro-Russian” party, was heard from the Republican Party during the campaign in the lead up to the by-election.
When few days before the by-election Inashvili leveled accusation against Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli of trying to manipulate poll results by votes of army service members deployed in Mukhrovani base, Khidasheli responded: “I am not a commentator for Russians.”
Speaking in a talk show at the Tbilisi-based Obieqtivi television channel, which is run by Inashvili, the latter said on October 28 that it was nonsense to accuse her party of stirring up anti-Western sentiments and “nihilism” towards Georgia’s NATO membership just because the Alliance of Patriots does not try to delude public about Georgia’s NATO perspectives.
“All the perspectives for Georgia to become a NATO member have been vanished… We should not be deluding ourselves and the public – no one is accepting you in NATO,” Inashvili said, adding that Western leaders themselves are saying that NATO has no plans to give membership to Georgia anytime soon.
“So if Irma Inashvili says the same it should imply that she is a Russian spy, but the same does not apply to Obama, Merkel and others… who are saying the same,” Inashvili said.
While in overall soft on criticizing the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG), a leading party within the GD coalition, and its leader PM Irakli Garibashvili, the Alliance of Patriots are fierce critics of the Republican Party, the only liberal party in the five-party ruling coalition.
One of the key issues over which the Alliance of Patriots is often criticizing the government is, what the party calls, “failure to punish” all the leading figures from formerly ruling UNM party.
Alliance of Patriots, which is describing itself as a conservative, rightist political force and bearer of “Georgian moral and Orthodoxy”, is also criticizing GD and ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili for what it views is giving too much power to the Republican Party.
“The current government is facing a threat from within itself and that threat is the Republican Part,” Inashvili said ahead of the by-elections.
Alliance of Patriots’ soft stance towards the government, and its fierce criticism of the formerly ruling and now opposition UNM party, as well as its decision not to join other opposition parties in boycotting MP by-elections, gave rise to allegations that the party is ruling coalition’s “satellite.”
There was also speculation about GD trying to tacitly support Irma Inashvili in winning the vote in Sagarejo MP by-election and to then use failure of the Republican Party member in the polls for sidelining Republicans.
Ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili strongly denied such speculation when asked about it in a TV interview on October 24 and called on voters in Sagarejo to cast their ballots for GD’s candidate Tamar Khidasheli. PM Irakli Garibashvili participated once in Khidasheli’s campaign rally in Sagarejo.
MP By-Election in Martvili
MP by-election was also held in Martvili single-mandate constituency on October 31, where GD’s candidate Soso Danelia won with large margin over his only competitor in the race Eter Medzvelia of the Alliance of Patriots.
GD’s candidate won 72.54% of votes and Alliance of Patriots’ candidate – 27.45%.
The voter turnout in Martvili, where 33,510 voters are registered, was 40%, according to the Central Election Commission.
MP by-election was held in Martvili constituency to fill a vacant seat in the Parliament following the death of UNM MP Nauli Janashia in March.