Sunday, January 6, 2008

Opposition claim widespread fraud

An hour ago, three leading members of the nine-party opposition coalition convened an "emergency briefing" on the election results, predicting the count will be rigged to avoid the runoff they say should happen.

Little international media were present, but three leading Georgian networks had the cameras rolling.

There was widespread evidence of vote fraud, ex-foreign minister Salome Zourabichvili claimed, ticking off instances of ill-timed electricity outages and misbehavior from officials. She had no evidence on hand to offer.

Nor did Tina Khidashvili, of the Republicans, have any documents beyond sheets of paper with penciled numbers to back up their assertion, based on parallel vote tabulations, that coalition candidate Levan Gachechiladze swept Tbilisi precincts.

Early CEC results, however, do suggest a stronger showing for Gachechiladze in Tbilisi than the rest of the country, including wins over Saakashvili in precincts within Didube and Vake districts.

The opposition representatives said that the rally at Rike this afternoon would not be a protest, but a celebration of winning a runoff -- and that any CEC results in the morning contradicting that means the election was rigged.

Khidasheli said the precinct results have been too slow in coming in, more evidence of fraud. While long delays in publishing results generally implies an increased risk of fraud, a look back at the 2006 and 2004 elections suggest the CEC is not unusually slow this weekend.

The first vote counts for the 2006 local elections were released the evening after the election; in the 2004 parliamentary elections, preliminary nationwide results came the morning after the election.

Coalition representative Kakha Kukava says they need no permission to rally at Rike tomorrow. (Georgian law requires advance notice only for demonstrations which will block traffic.) Reports that Saakashvili's National Movement had reserved Rike for their own Sunday rally are unconfirmed. Kukava, asked to guess at turnout tomorrow, said 200 000 people would come if the Georgian media had disseminated their announcement. Not many people would know about the rally, he predicted, clearly hedging on turnout strength.

My early morning taxi driver, however, knew the time and place of the Rike rally. He said he would be there by all means.


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