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Officials Still Call for Higher Voter Turnout
/ 4 Jan.'04 / 14:54
Giorgi Sepashvili, Tea Gularidze, Civil Georgia

Voters are queued up at polling stations in
Tbilisi, however officials still call for higher

Chairman of the Central Election Commission Zurab Tchiaberashvili said the voter turnout for the midday “does not give reason to be satisfied.” He once again urged the citizens for higher voter turnout.

However, Interim President Nino Burjanadze hailed the voter turnout and expressed hope that the elections will be valid.

“I call on the population to come and cast ballot, as the fate of our country will be solved today,” Nino Burjanadze said after casting ballot in one of the precincts of Tbilisi.

Turnout has to reach 50% for the election to be valid. The CEC chief said that the percentage figures of the voter turnout would be known later today.

The voters are queued up at the polling stations in Tbilisi. Officials say that the voting procedure, which includes voter marking to prevent multiple voting, slows down the ballot cast.

Polling stations in Georgia's 75 districts opened at 8 a.m. on January 4 and are due to close at 8 p.m. to election Georgia’s new President and no major violations has been reported so far. 

Chairman of the CEC Zurab Tchiaberashvili said “the presidential elections started and are held in normal conditions.” 

“No serious problems have been reported. There are some minor technical problems, but they will not hamper holding of elections,” Zurab Tchiaberashvili said at a news briefing.

There are five contenders for the presidency; however, no one doubts that Mikheil Saakashvili, 36, who led the November street protests against Shevardnadze, is uncontested and will win the elections. The only one problem to him might be a low voter turnout. Mikheil Saakashvili and his partners have urged the people for many times in last few weeks to go to polling stations.

Saakashvili’s opponents include Temur Shashiashvili, who governed western Georgia's Imereti region during Shevardnadze’s presidency. He is the most well known contenders of Saakashvili. While others, like Kartlos Garibashvili, a lawyer and Roin Liparteliani are mainly known, because they have already run for presidency in 2000. There is also another candidate Zaza Sikharulidze.

The polling stations were opened in Adjara Autonomous Republic as well. “There are no problems in Adjara and I should thank the local election administration, which plays a very positive role in this,” Zurab Tchiaberashvili, Chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC) said.

Saakashvili urged for high voter turnout
after casting ballot.
The election procedures will be prolonged until January 6 in high mountainous regions of Georgia, as heavy weather conditions hamper duly sending of necessary equipment and ballot papers to these regions.

This morning Georgia’s ex-President Eduard Shevardnadze has also cast ballot in one of the precincts of Tbilisi, however earlier in one of his interview he said that he would not participate in the elections.

When asked whether he cast ballot for Mikheil Saakashvili, Shevardnadze replied, “you are close to right answer.” “He [Saakashvili] is a cleaver,” Shevardnadze added.

“I would advise the new President not to talk much and to work much,” Eduard Shevardnadze told reporters.

Mikheil Saakashvili is expected to cast ballot later. 

Around 450 observers from the OSCE, as well as local and CIS observers will monitor the elections throughout Georgia.

The United States, which has been watching developments in Georgia very closely, expressed hope on January 1 that the elections will be “clean and peaceful” that “represents the will of the Georgian people.”

There was no active election campaigning on the eve of elections; no debates on television and no posters of candidates, just the old ones that were left up since the fraudulent November 2 parliamentary elections, which sparked the protest rallies against the previous government. There were just few political TV ads of Saakashvili, showing the footage of November street protests, reminding the voters that Saakashvili was a key figure in ouster of Shevardnadze.

Sandra Roelofs, Dutch wife of Mikheil Saakashvili, was actually the one who was actively campaigning in support of her husband. During her campaigning in the regions of Georgia, Sandra, who speaks Georgian and even Megrelian (language in western Georgian region), gained a huge popularity and many Georgians now joke that Sandra became even more popular than her husband.

The interim government, which supports Saakashvili’s candidacy, somehow managed to deal with the problems that might have threatened the January 4 elections. The voter lists and Adjarian leader Aslan Abashidze were the main conundrum for the provisional authorities, which took over the power after the velvet revolution.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) made voter lists through the voter registration process, when the citizens were going to the precinct in order to be registered. There are more than 1,7 million voters registered up to now. However, CEC chairman Zurab Tchiaberashvili says, “those voters who did not undergo registration can register even on the elections day.” Thus, the number of voters might increase.

Leader of Georgia’s Adjara Autonomous Republic Aslan Abashidze was even bigger problem, as he was threatening with boycotting elections in Adjara. However, Abashidze yielded to international pressure and the mounting protest of the Adjara population and agreed to open polling stations in Adjara. However, he said after the talks with Zurab Zhvania, the State Minister on December 30 that his party the Revival Union would boycott elections. 

The Labor Party, led by Shalva Natelashvili, as well as former supporters of Eduard Shevardnadze, whose party fell apart just after his resignation, also boycotts the January 4 elections. 

Inauguration ceremony of the new President is scheduled for January 25 – the birthday of ex-President Eduard Shevardnadze. “This will be my present to Shevardnadze,” Saakashvili said recently.

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