Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Imedi factor

Imedi TV staff decided to suspend broadcasts in late December, after the government released a tape of station founder Badri Patarkatsishvili allegedly detailing a violent coup plot.

Authorities blame Imedi TV for inciting anti-government violence on November 7, raiding and ransacking the leading television network that day.

Imedi Radio, however, is up and running -- and they're reporting unverified exit polling results which put opposition coalition candidate Levan Gachechiladze ahead of Saakashvili. The Ukrainian group which carried out this poll was supposedly hired by the Imedi Media group, though speculation remains as to who is ultimately behind it. Calls to Ukrainian journalists turned up no credible background for the group.

It's more than an hour before a more reputable exit poll will reveal its results; this discrepancy in counts is exactly what observers fear could spark mass protests from voters who perceive government vote fraud.

There is already a significant block of voters expecting fraud. A poll commissioned by the Saakashvili campaign found that, in early December, a full 30 percent of voters were convinced the election would be neither free nor fair. How ready they are to mobilize in protest, and whether more moderately-minded bulk of voters will perceive this election as rigged, is the question of the night.

While the pro-government Georgian TV networks conspicuously have no reports at all on these exit polls, Imedi Radio ensures that people will swiftly hear about the results.

Representatives of the oppositional New Rights, which are not part of the nine-party opposition coalition, say they are skeptical about the exit polls.

It's still unclear whether the opposition coalition behind Gachechiladze will run with the exit poll results; look for an update soon.


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