Monday, May 26, 2008

Opposition rally ends, leaders try to muster support

The demonstration outside parliament has ended.

United Opposition leader Levan Gachechiladze is calling on supporters from the regions to join demonstrations in Tbilisi over the next few days. They seem to be hunkering down for another extended campaign; leaders vow to prevent parliament from convening later this summer.

CEC: No big announcements today

A CEC spokesman, speaking a briefing aired live by Rustavi 2, said there will be no significant results or decisions announced this afternoon.

That is a quick effort to undercut any rationale for marching on the Central Election Commission, as the opposition have suggested may happen following a 4 p.m. meeting there.

UNOMIG: Russian jet shot down Georgian drone

In other news, UNOMIG's team wrapped up its investigation into the April 20 downing of an unmanned Georgian spy plane over Abkhazia. Tbilisi released a video of the encounter, showing what Georgian officials claimed was a Russian jet shooting down their drone.

Based on the evidence, UNOMIG agreed:

Citing extensive analysis of the radar records and video footage, the UNOMIG team reported today that: "Absent compelling evidence to the contrary, this leads to the conclusion that the aircraft belonged to the Russian air force."

More: This will be a big boost to Tbilisi's push for internationalization of the peacekeeping forces: "From a strict peacekeeping perspective, therefore, the Mission considers that enforcement action by third-parties – in this case the Russian Federation - in the zone of conflict is fundamentally inconsistent with the Moscow Agreement and, aside from possible considerations under international law, undercuts the ceasefire and separation of forces regime."

Opposition to form alternative parliament

Around ten thousand opposition supporters are gathered outside parliament. Most have been peaceful.

New Rights leader Davit Gamkrelidze says they will form an alternative parliament. Before him, Levan Gachechiladze vowed not to let the incoming official parliament convene.

They earlier announced an ultimatum: annul the results of last week's parliamentary elections by 4 p.m.

Riot police fell back from a blockade at the start of Rustaveli, allowing marchers to pass through. Since then, there has been one or two scuffles and some stones thrown. It's fortunate there's been nothing more -- unlike earlier protests, there are crowds of young men looking for trouble.

Little incentive for a big campaign

The United Opposition say they will rally to push for new elections, but they lack momentum and incentive.

The first 16 on the United Opposition’s party list were elected to parliament last week; that represents key leadership of all member parties, most of which are vehicles for their top personalities.

They’ve fallen short of turning out the sitting government, but can make much of their position in parliament. The leading opposition figures have titles, salaries, and the opportunity for deal-making.

They also have frustrated supporters and underlings urging them to push for more. They will do so, as none wish to be the first to publicly accept the cards this election dealt, but it will be with more posture than conviction.

Today’s rally will probably fizzle out. The alternative is for something terrible to happen. There is little support for a revolution, but there is always someone willing to get violent. Yet some in the opposition have already vowed to leave the fold if the demonstration gets out of hand, so any incident is more likely to be quickly resolved than reinvigorate a lengthy campaign.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Republicans not to boycott

The Republicans will not boycott the new parliament.

"The people of Khevi voted for me and I will defend their interests in parliament," said Roman Marsagishvili, Republican majoritarian MP for Kazbegi said.

Friday, May 23, 2008

United Opposition to demand repeat elections

A United Opposition leader says they will go ahead with the Monday rally, and demand to new elections.

They announced a boycott of the incoming parliament today. Whether Labor, the Christian Democrats and the Republican's two MPs will join is unknown. It certainly won't stop business; a quorum is 1/3rd.

Official results: NM win 119 seats

Official results give NM 119 seats out of the 150 total.

More: We projected the wrong number (117) due to a slightly wrong method of calculating seats. The CEC calculated the number of proportionally-allocated seats per party not by using that party's percentage of total votes, but that party's share of only the votes which went to the four parties clearing the minimum vote threshold.

United Opposition announce boycott of parliament

The United Opposition say they will boycott parliament in protest at the elections that they claim were rigged.

Labor leader Shalva Natelashvili has called on all opposition parties to boycott the new parliament.

“The united opposition refuses to enter this parliament and the united opposition stays with its people," United Opposition leader Levan Gachechiladze said.

He also called on the whole of Georgia to join the coalition at its planned protest on Monday outside the Sports Palace.

A source tells us the boycott announcement is just a matter of posturing.

Christian Democrats leader Giorgi Targamadze has already stated that they will not take part in the boycott.

Official results: NM with 117 of 150 seats

The first official results give the National Movement 59.48 percent in party list voting, at the upper end of the margin of error for the latest GQR polling and just below the lower end for the exit polling.

The Central Election Commission also says the ruling party has won 71 of the 75 majoritarian seats, with results unlikely to change.

This should give the ruling party 117 seats, well beyond a constitutional majority.

Opposition to rally on Independence Day

Gamkrelidze announced a rally at the Sports Palace on Monday, while a military parade is marching in the center of the capital just a few kilometers away.

This is dangerous. It could be the moment the opposition goes for broke.

Just spoke with MP Kakha Kukava, a leading United Opposition member who was just barely reelected parliament in an election the opposition say was rigged:

He says they are calling on all opposition parties to join them with their supporters. What they do at that rally -- whether they march toward Rustaveli Avenue, parliament and the military parade -- depends on what demonstrators decide.

Only organizing the rally is not enough; they need thousands of supporters to change the situation. Without that support, Kukava says, they cannot take this to "the end of the story."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Government dominating majoritarian contests

National Movement candidates have won 37 of the 40 single-representative district races with clear victors. That leaves 35 of these majoritarian races still uncalled, with more than three-quarters of precincts reporting.

Of the remaining races, only a few are possible opposition wins.

: For the record, we're projecting 116-118 NM seats.

Fun with protocols

Labor leader Shalva Natelashvili's surprisingly poor performance in his home district of Dusheti may, in part, be blamed on the fact that his name isn't actually in the results for at least one precinct.

There were similar irregularities across Dusheti, which the OSCE report chastised as one of three particularly bad district election commissions.

Ruling party taking 59 percent nationwide

With nearly 70 percent of precincts in, the ruling National Movement is carrying 59 percent of the vote, which likely amounts to 46 seats of the 75 party list mandates.

The United Opposition remains in second with 16.5 percent.

How do they spot it?

Hans at CRRC has an interesting post which sheds a little light on OSCE/ODIHR's election observation methodology.

Opposition protest as CEC hears complaints

The Central Election Commission is meeting to consider complaints filed over yesterday's elections. Two opposition commissioners walked out in protest. "I will not take part in this farce," one said.

The complaints include too many voters at some precincts, instances of bribing; nearly all allegations levied by opposition representatives.

Our reporter described CEC chairman Levan Tarkhnishvili, who has been noticeably absent from media briefings this week, as "unfazed."

UPDATE: The meeting ended; the two boycotting commissioners were Gaga Mtvarelidze of Labor and Sandro Bregadze of Freedom/United Opposition.

Labor ends tiny rally; Republicans speak of 'crisis'

The leaders of Labor and the Republicans each gave briefings this hour.

The populist Labor, which sneaked seven or eight of its members into parliament, says they're ready to fight to get rid of Saakashvili. They'll consult with other opposition parties tonight on a plan, leader Shalva Natelashvili said outside parliament.

Republican leader Davit Usupashvili said the elections were riddled with violations and vote fraud. He said his party would search for a way out the "crisis," within constitutional means.

The Republicans fell short of the five percent threshold for parliamentary representation, but may land one or two majoritarian seats.

No word out of the United Opposition.

I don't think it's accurate to characterize the situation as a "crisis," though one could be fomented by opposition decisions in the next few days.

OSCE: 'substantial progress' over presidential election

“These elections were not perfect, but since I was here in January for the presidential election, concrete and substantial progress has been made. Problems and much work remain. I hope all political forces in this country will come together and continue to work to improve Georgia’s democracy,” said João Soares, Special Co-ordinator of the OSCE short-term observers and head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation.

The OSCE monitoring team just gave their preliminary assessment.

Full press release here. The sound bites are, naturally, much more positive than the overall picture.

MORE: PACE's Matyas Eorsi, speaking at the press conference: "[In Europe] the losing side congratulates the winner and prepares for the next election. This essential criteria has not been met in Georgia."

Eorsi said they would recommend adopting a new electoral code by the end of the year.

Unlike the presidential election, Georgian television is not covering this briefing live. Public interest in the election is palpably weaker than in January.

How many seats?

Based on official results from 1697 precincts, the National Movement will take 47 of the 75 party list seats.

The formidable calculated the ruling party to have at least 50 seats, but I can't sort out how they arrived at that number. (If a reader can, please comment.)

By my figures, the National Movement's percent of the vote earns them 45 seats; the United Opposition 11, the Christian Democrats 6 and Labor 5.

That leaves eight seats unallocated. According to the CEC's legal department, contacted before the election to clarify the ambiguous wording in the election code, unallocated seats are given one by one to the parties in parliament, starting with the highest vote-getter and working downwards. With four parties in parliament, each party gets a two-seat boost.

At least 13 majoritarian seats are already clearly in the government column, but at this point they're expected to win close to 70 of the 75 majoritarian seats.

That would give the government 117 MPs, well over the 100 needed for a supermajority.

nGnI counts 58.5 percent for National Movement; shows opposition leader losing in Samgori race

nGnI released their final parallel vote tabulation from 800 precincts. With turnout at 50.7 percent, they gave the National Movement 58.5 percent in party list voting.

According to official results from nearly half the precincts, the National Movement stands at 61.4 percent.

nGnI's count put the United Opposition in second place with 18.3 percent, followed by the Christian Democrats at 8.4 and Labor at 7.3

The Republicans clocked in at 3.9 percent, falling well short of the 5 percent vote threshold for parliamentary representation.

nGnI also tallied votes in five majoritarian contests. the opposition's Davit Gamkrelidze wins in Vake, but the ruling party takes majoritarian seats in Zugdidi, Batumi, Gori and Samgori, where opposition leader Levan Gachechiladze went up against a wealthy businesswoman.

Small protest planned today

The Labor Party, which is winning about six percent of the vote, is rally supporters outside parliament at 5 p.m. today. On the other side of the river, the OSCE will announce its first assessment of yesterday's election from the Sheraton hotel.

Labor's rally will be minor. The United Opposition is deliberating on how and when to protest its loss, promising supporters last night to announce plans in the next few days.

National Movement holds its dominating lead

With about one-third of precincts reporting, the National Movement is at 63 percent of the party list vote.

It's a remarkable victory for a party whose most identifiable leader -- President Mikheil Saakashvili -- won just 52 percent of the vote four months ago.

NOTE: As predicted, the ruling party will easily hold a two-thirds majority, allowing it to amend the constitution at will.

Ruling party headed for huge victory

With over 200 precincts reporting, the ruling National Movement is still carrying the nation-wide vote with over 60 percent.

In the majoritarian contests, the National Movement so far has strong leads in Guria's Chokhatauri district, Samtskhe-Javakheti's Akhalkalaki and Adigeni districts, Shida Kartli's Khashuri and Kakheti's Lagodekhi (though there are dubious results from precinct 19).

If these numbers hold up, the government will end the day with a two-thirds majority in the next parliament.

You can follow along with the majoritarian races here, and the proportional voting here.

Majoritarian races shaping up

The government is predicted to sweep most of the 75 single-representative districts, but the opposition banked on strong performances in Tbilisi. They're getting some good news now -- Davit Saganelidze of the New Rights / United Opposition looks set to win Didube district.

Saakashvili declares victory

In Zugdidi, President Mikheil Saakashvili told foreign reporters "the most amazing thing [tonight] was the landslide victory."

Saakashvili also said his party looks to have picked up a constitutional majority, according to a foreign journalist at the event.

Results trickling in, National Movement maintains steady lead

Early precinct results available on the Central Election Commission's website.

These are the district-by-district totals for the proportional voting.

Results for the majoritarian contests are in Georgian only. In those 75 contests, the seat goes to the single candidate who takes the most votes in the district. A run-off is avoided by clearing 30 percent of the vote -- something the ruling party candidate is expected to do comfortably in most districts.

Georgian government claims observer approval

A government press release says international monitors "hail improvements" in the election and declare the vote "free and fair."

It quotes a laundry list of eastern European MPs from staunch Georgia allies giving their imprimatur to the elections.

The statement said serious irregularities were reported in just 8 of 3 558 electoral precincts.

First district-by-district proportional voting results

Khashuri district in Shida Kartli will go to the National Movement.

As does Dmanisi in Kvemo Kartli.

73 districts to go, and no surprises yet. See our earlier post for a prediction of how this count will play out.

CEC results from 83 districts

Results from 83 precincts, released by the CEC:

Political Union of Citizens "Georgian Policy": 0.73%
Republicans 3.78%
Electoral Bloc "Alliance of the Rights, Topadze-Industrials" 1.07%
Labour Party 7.57%
United National Movement: 61.39%
Georgian Sportsmen Union: 0.11%
Joint Opposition (National Council, New Rights): 13.5%
National Party of Radical-Democrats of the whole Georgia: 0.22%
Christian-Democratic Alliance: 0.5%
Christian-Democrats: 7.99%

Electoral Bloc "Traditionalists - Our Georgia and Women Party"
0.33% ( 84 )

Political Party "Our Country"
0.1% ( 25 )

PVT results give ruling party 77% in 5 districts

Parallel vote tabulation results released by Georgian NGO New Generation New Initiative (nGnI) showed 77% for the National Movement in five districts: Samgori, Vake, Zugdidi, Gori and Batumi. This is much higher than expected.

Results coming in

A CEC representative has said that results from at least 300 precincts are in and being processed.

Rally begins to disperse

The opposition rally outside the sports palace is beginning disperse, with opposition figures telling supporters to go back to polling stations and try to protect against voter fraud.

Some crowd members are reportedly disappointed, calling for a march to the CEC, as was originially planned.

Final exit poll results

Popular vote:

United National Movement: 63.1%
United Opposition: 14.2%
Christian Democratic Party: 9.5%
Labor: 5.7%
Republican Party: 3.6%
Christian Democratic Alliance: 1%

Majoritarian candidates:

United National Movement: 63.5%
United Opposition: 15.6%
Christian Democratic Party: 8.6%
Labor: 4.6%
Republican Party: 3.7%

Gachechiladze and Gamkrelidze address the crowd

United Opposition leader Levan Gachechiladze and New Rights leader Davit Gamkrelidze have addressed opposition supporters at the sports palace.

"In spite of the violations, people supported us," Gamkrelidze said, adding that most rural districts had been subject to election fraud.

"Even Shevardnadze didn't use criminals to get votes, but Misha [Saakashvili] did because he is a criminal," he said.

Gachechiladze, clad in cargo pants, pledged to fight for the smallest pieces of land in Georgia.

He also called on all opposition candidates to unite and work out a strategy for a "fight."

Republicans talk about "hard road ahead"

Republican leader Davit Usupashvili talked about the "hard road ahead" in a live speech on opposition-friendly Kavkasia TV that is being aired to the crowd gathered at the sports palace.

He also pledged to plan serious action from tommorrow to a cheering crowd.

Unbelievable turnout in Zugdidi precinct

Fantastically, a precinct in Zugdidi has announced 101% turnout.

A CEC spokesman said it was a technical problem and will be resolved shortly.

Labor Party join rally of few thousand

The Labor Party have joined the United Opposition rally tonight outside the sports palace, with the crowd erupting in a big cheer the moment a Labor representative appeared.

Opposition figures are addressing the crowd of a few thousand with the usual rhetoric, railing against privatization and accusing the authorities of evilness.

They are also reiterating there should be no trust in exit polls or parallel vote tabulation.

A Christian Democratic Party representative has addressed the crowd but it is unclar whether that party is joining the rally.

The Republican Party are reportedly going to announce their protest plans tommorrow.

A lighter note

The ruling party are apparently outdoing the opposition on the hospitality front, offering food and, according to our man on the ground, "nice Scotch," to journalists.

The opposition spread, perhaps appropriately sobering, consists of pizza and juice.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

United Opp: Extent of violations unprecedented

The United Opposition are saying that the extent of violations is unprecendented, calling on all supporters to gather and decide what to do tonight.

On a giant screen outside the sports palace they are showing footage of alleged violations throughout the day, including precinct workers accompanying elderly voters into booths to help them vote.

Our reporter on the ground says they are well prepared, with giant speaker system set up to rally the crowd.

United Opposition claim win over ruling party in Tbilisi

The United Opposition claim they won 36 percent of the vote in Tbilisi, compared to the ruling party's 30 percent.

UPDATE: The United Opposition are now claiming that, based on their calculations,the results for Tbilisi only are as follows:

United Opposition: 40.55%
National Movement: 32%
Labor Party: 8%
Republican Party: 5.4%

The Republicans, meanwhile, are claiming that according to their parallel vote tabulation their candidates in Tsageri and Kazbegi have won.

Party leader Davit Usupashvili: " I have not seen so many violations [in an election] since 1990."

CEC: Voter turnout 55 percent

Total voter turnout was 55 percent, a total of 1 905 960 voters, the CEC has announced.

A CEC spokesperson deemed the figure "satisfactory," and said that the elections were transparent free and fair.

He also "proudly" announced that they represent a new step forward.

The CEC has also said that reported violations in some precincts will probably mean results from those precincts will be annulled.

Top government officials comment on elections

Top government officials have commented on the elections.

Former foreign minister Davit Bakradze acknowledged that the ruling party has not officialy won yet, but added "we will be in future," pledging readiness to cooperate with all the parties that make it into parliament.

Ruling Party MP Gigi Tsereteli said "We don't have the right to betray people like those in Gali who voted under a rain of bullets."

Giorgi Baramidze, State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, said "in general the country was better prepared for elections than last year."

Meanwhile National Movement activists gathered to show support at the party headquarters said they were not surprised by the exit poll results.

"Not 60 percent, our party should have 100 percent," said Mari, 17.

"We're here to support the National Movement, we're here to support Misha," said Levan 19.

Well known Georgian actor Otar Koberidze said he was "waiting for even more," when the exit poll results were released. "These results were not a surprise for me," he added.

Prime Minister: Elections normal and fair in general

Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said that the election process was "normal and fair in general" but noted the "worrying events in Gali and minor violations at some polling stations."

He also said that he could not comment on how accurate exit polls were and expected some differences in the final results.

"I am not a sociology expert, I cannot say whether these exit polls were just or not, I think that the final result will be slightly different," he said.

Special forces at CEC building

Our reporter says several cars of special forces troops are near the old Central Election Commission building, ready to block the entrance until morning.

MORE: The opposition have promised to rally in half an hour to announce their count of today's results.

The CEC has split its operations in two: ballot counting and posting of results will be done at its old building, which is lies along a busy road with a minuscule parking lot. The opposition are planning to rally near the new CEC building.

Ruling party congratulate activists on "worthy and fair elections"

Davit Bakradze of the ruling party congratulated United National Movement activists on "worthy and fair elections...despite all the difficulties and provocations."

nGnI gives positive assessment

New Generation-New Initiative, which is doing observation and parallel vote counts, said election commissions did well in reacting to violations, unlike previous elections. They gave voting an overall positive assessment.

Turnout was under 51 percent for the day, according to their count. Preliminary PVT results will be released in an hour.

Report: Special forces to seal off CEC

Our reporter at the Central Election Commission says special forces troops are at the Central Election Commission where ballots are being counted. They've told journalists who want to leave to do it soon, because they will seal the door until morning.

Opposition to announce their version of results at 11

The opposition will announce the result of their parallel vote tabulation at 11 p.m. and then declare its next step, Eka Beselia of the United Opposition said.

Beselia said the nine-party opposition coalition was "laughing" as the exit poll results were announced.

Observer group alleges 'significant election violations'

From PMMG, which has observers in Kvemo Kartli, Samstkhe-Javakheti, Shida Kartli and Kakheti:

"Contrary to the previous bulletin we are receiving reports of far more significant election violations, often including the election commission members in the PECs, including agitation, ignoring complaints, lack of log books, ballot stuffing, names not matching badges, absence of proper stamps and seals on ballot materials, chaotic and uncontrolled entrance of voters, lack of marking appropriately with UV dye, as well as list irregularities. In addition we are increasingly receiving reports of voters voting on behalf of other people, or twice, underage voting and the ever present ‘Carousel Voting’. This, along with obstruction and violence against observers suggests wide ranging violations in these regions. This adds to previously reported administrative problems, of not enough ballot papers matching numbers of voters."

Final exit poll results at 11:30

Young National Movement activists are flocking to the party HQ near Freedom Square to hear the final exit poll results, now scheduled for release at 11:30 Tbilisi time.

Opposition warns of revolution

United Opposition member Gia Tortladze:

"We don't trust the exit polling but if the CEC declare the same results they will get a revolution."

Republicans: We don't trust exit polls

The Republicans do not trust the exit polls, party leader Davit Usupashvili said.

“We do not trust [the exit poll results] as they were created beforehand to make people used to them. We have counted the votes in parallel [vote tabulation] and these are different,” Usupashvili said.

Ruling party holding off on celebrations

Unlike in the January presidential election, when Saakashvili supporters paraded through the streets declaring victory within an hour of polls closing, our reporter in the ruling party's HQ says they are asking supporters to keep calm and refrain from celebrating before more complete results are announced.

Opposition decry exit poll results

Goga Khaindrava, a leader of the United Opposition, said exit polls were the "first sign of rigging elections," shortly after the results of an exit poll were released.

"Exit polling is the first sign of rigging elections, we declare a boycott of them and I am not interested in exit poll results at all," Khaindrava said.

Government MP plays down odds of a two-thirds majority

Ruling party MP Gigi Tsereteli: Exit polls results are preliminary figures and may change, but we never doubted our final victory. But we don't think we'll have a constitutional majority.

Tseretli said they would wait for final results before celebrating.

plus ca change

I’m still catching up on the day’s events, and there’s no point to speculating on results that will be announced shortly, so here’s some pre-analysis. I just returned from a conference on Georgian culture, attended by scholars of Georgia, many of whom follow politics closely.

I spoke about Georgia’s contemporary political culture and its remarkable continuity over the past fifteen years, despite periodic upheavals and more recent improvement in many measures of development. Roads can be fixed, petty corruption rooted out, NATO membership sorta kinda guaranteed—why, then, is Georgia stuck with hyperventilating political dialogue, personality-based parties, and endless arguments over process rather than policy? Surveys of the political-party landscape and assessments of local and parliamentary elections from five or ten years ago find the same patterns—and many of the same characters—as we’ve seen this year.

The discussion considered causes and consequences of this stasis. Some favored cultural/historical explanations—we’re still burdened by a Soviet legacy of top-down initiative, or Georgians will only mobilize to a charismatic leader’s call to mass action, and suchlike. Others contended that it’s a matter of setting the rules—if parliamentary-seating thresholds and party-financing regulations are tuned properly, then parties will respond with substantive platforms and build grassroots bases of support. Many felt that the tone of political discourse doesn’t much matter, nor does the fragility of the party system; the public is sophisticated enough to see through and ignore diatribes and appeals to emotion, and plenty of states muddle along just fine with dysfunctional legislatures and divisive executives. And a few said that citizens get the politics they deserve. (As Adlai Stevenson is reported to have responded, upon being told that he had the support of all right-thinking Americans, “That’s not enough—I need a majority.”) Not a ringing endorsement of Georgian politics, and not a fate to which I’d want Georgia to resign itself.

Political leanings and sympathies varied, but no one was pleased with the state of affairs or the political leaders’ comportment. One Georgian participant said to me, “why do otherwise-reasonable people start acting so loopy when they go into politics?”

Exit polls: National Movement wins

Exit polls show the government winning 63 percent of the vote nationwide.

The exit polls, conducted by a group including a state university and leading think-tank, showed the United Opposition with 14.2 percent, Christian Democrats with 9.1 and Labor with 5.8. The Republicans fell short of the five percent threshold, getting just 3.6 percent, according to these exit polls.

For the 75 majoritarian races, which compose half the seats, the National Movement are projected to take: 63.4 percent across all districts, Christian Democrats 8.4, United Opposition 15.7, Republicans 3.8 and Labor 4.6.

If this is an accurate prediction of the final count, the National Movement could romp to a more than two-thirds majority, depending on how the majoritarian races play out.

Opposition leaders, fearing biased exit polls would be used to legitimize rigged elections, told their supporters not to participate.

: Margin of error is 3.5 percent, making it unclear whether the Republicans topped 5 percent.

Polls close

Exit poll results, which will be dismissed by opposition, to be announced now.

United Opposition claims victory

Davit Gamkrelidze, leading member of the nine-party opposition coalition: "I want to congratulate Georgians on the opposition winning the elections. Georgians supported us and they refused the National Movement."

Exit poll results will be announced in a matter of minutes.

More on Gali

Abkhaz officials are calling the shootings and blasts in Gali district a "provocation."

An Abkhaz security officer told separatist news agency Apsnypress that a bus headed from Zugdidi towards Gali, the southern district of Abkhazia populated mostly by ethnic Georgians, came under fire in Georgian-controlled territory 200 meters from the administrative border. Separatist officials deny responsibility.

The Georgian deputy interior minister said four women were injured in the attack, one seriously. The attention of the UN is very important, she said.

The separatist Abkhaz official in charge of Gali district told Apsnypress that their militia are not stopping ethnic Georgian from crossing the administrative border to vote in Zugdidi.

In Tbilisi, ruling party representative Davit Bakradze said, "Abkhazia should be an issue which political parties can unite over."

Ruling party: Elections are free and fair

Davit Bakradze, top of the ruling National Movement's party list, said the "elections are free and fair and we [the National Movement] are ready to accept any results."

He accused the opposition of preparing for protests, not polling.

“Opposition representatives leave their stations and leave for Tbilisi. It shows that they are not interested in the results of the elections... Members of the opposition parties have left five stations in Lagodekhi and seem to prepare for the demonstration in Tbilisi."

He said the election process is generally calm, and promised that all violations would face an "adequate reaction from the CEC."

The polls close in 30 minutes.

More good things to come on the Messenger blog

Thanks to everyone for reading. We at the paper have been busy collating first-hand reports from around the country, so there's been little time for analysis.

For that, we turn to Dr. Jonathan Kulick, director of studies at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies and a renowned Georgia analyst.

Stay tuned for his analyses and more breaking updates from Georgia's most trusted newspaper.

CEC on turnout, complaints

41.5 percent turnout by 5 p.m., according to the CEC.

Roughly 640 complaints have been filed into the CEC. A spokesperson said it was roughly the same number as the presidential election.

MORE: Highest turnout by 5: Aspindza with 77 percent, Ninotsminda with 77, Akhaltsikhe with 70. Lowest is Zugdidi at 29.2 percent, Zemo Abkhazia with 24.7 and Tsalka at 29.2.

Source: NM preparing to celebrate

A reliable source says staff at the ruling National Movement's headquarters are setting up fireworks on the roof of the building.

Republicans: Elections endangering internal stability and international safety

Davit Zurabishvili, a leading Republican member: “The situation is much worse than it was during the presidential election. [Davit] Bakradze had a pathetic briefing, but it would be better if they show us actions instead of words and prevent the rigging of elections.”

The Republicans have alleged a number of violations today, including an incident in Tbilisi's Saburtalo district where Tina Khidasheli is running for a majoritarian seat. Two men with recently-obtained passports, registered from apparently false addresses, tried to vote, leading to a confrontation in the polling station.

"This incident could not have happened without help from officials, of the Interior Ministry, the Justice Ministry, City Hall," said party leader Davit Usupashvili.

Says MP Ivliane Khaindrava: “The situation is getting worse and worse. [The worst] will be from six until eight. Violations are very strong, particularly in the regions of Kakheti and Kvemo Kartli. Now the wave of violations is coming to Tbilisi. There is pressure on commission members, unknown groups of people are gathering in front of the precincts. This is the most violation-riddled election in Georgia’s history. The most dangerous elections in terms of internal stability and international scale."

The Republicans are staunch foes of the government, but have been far more moderated in rhetoric than most other opposition parties.

The United Opposition, which promises a rebellion if the elections are rigged, is holding a briefing now.

nGnI says turnout 34 percent at 3 p.m.; PVT results at 11

New Generation-New Initiative, an NGO doing a parallel vote tabulation, reported 34 percent turnout by 3 p.m. today.

Aside from "incidents" in Gori and Poti, elections are generally orderly and calm.

The first parallel count numbers will be out at 11 p.m., preceded by a summary of how the elections have gone at 8 p.m. as polls close.

CLARIFICATION: nGnI says there will be parallel vote counts from 5 districts tonight at 11 p.m.: Zugdidi, Gori, Batumi, Vake and Samgori. That will be followed by 800 precinct results tomorrow at 2 p.m. 800 000 voters in total, 23 percent of the population. +/- 1 percent margin of error nationwide, methodology set by Gallup.

Ruling party responds to Gamkrelidze

Former foreign minister Davit Bakradze, who tops the ruling party electoral list, told New Rights leader Davit Gamkrelidze to "calm down the hysterical rhetoric" and
"check his own party members” for criminals.

He also said that the election process was being conducted "in a normal way expect for incidents of provocation by the opposition.

Referring to reports of a shootout in Gali earlier in the day, Bakradze said a "tragedy" had occurred where "people that were fulfiling their civil duty are heroes," and should be be supported.

Gamkrelidze: Special Operations Department running these elections

About an hour ago, Davit Gamkrelidze of the New Rights -- now part of the nine-party opposition coalition calling itself the United Opposition -- said: “This is the first time when Special Operations Department is holding elections, I call on people to be more active so the National Movement doesn’t win [unfairly].”

A post with the ruling party's response will follow.

Christian Democrats: We’re looking at violations, prefer normal politics to protests

Giorgi Rukhadze, the Christian Democrats’ international secretary, said the party is “studying very intensively” reports of irregularities and violations.

“… At this stage I can't really say how those riggings will affect the general outcome of the elections. We have already filed some accusations to the CEC and local CEC officers, and we will wait what the decisions of the court are, and take further steps then.”

He said the violations he had heard of were mostly committed by National Movement supporters and local election officials.

Party leader Giorgi Targamadze said the most important period would come when the vote tallies are summed up.

“I hope things won't go like January 5, where whole precincts and districts results were rewritten,” he said.

Targamadze said his party is for peaceful development, not protests, and hoped “Georgia will shift from a polar, radical politics to normal political competition.”

But Rukhadze, the international secretary, when asked whether the party will protest the election results, said it wouldn’t matter whether they get 10, 20 or 30 percent of the vote—they would demonstrate based on whether the election was fair.

“If not, we may take further steps,” he said.

Abkhaz leader: We're not doing the shooting

De facto Abkhaz president Sergey Bagapsh says there are blasts and shootings, but not in Gali region, Russian news media reports. The shootings are in Georgian-controlled territory, he claims, and Abkhaz forces have nothing to with it.

Bakradze briefing postponed until 5 p.m. Tbilisi time


Observers report widespread organizational snafus

From Public Movement Multinational Georgia, an umbrella NGO for ethnic minority groups and a registered election observer today:

"The main problems we have found so far are that the number of ballot papers in polling stations is less than voters registered. This is the common problem in many regions. But also scattered problems of obstructing observers, unsuitable locations, no UV dye being used, commissioner staff not being present or displaying correct badges, problems of supplementary lists being too long and one violent incident when a complaint was not registered."

Rezonansi editor claims assault and fraud in Kakheti

The deputy editor of local newspaper Rezonansi, Eliso Chapidze, says she was assaulted by government officers while documenting egregious vote fraud in a Kakheti precinct.

She is reputedly pro-opposition but honest. We spoke to her on the phone:

Chapidze is in the village of Magaro, in Sighnaghi district, birthplace of the Republican party leader. The ruling National Movement sent out an order that this precinct must be won, she says.

She alleges election officials were bought off by ruling party members. Several men, in plainclothes but apparently from the Interior Ministry, came in the morning. She approached them and asked for ID.

The men took and smashed her camera, then slapped her in the face. She asked the police to intervene; they did nothing. Locals tried to help her. She is still in the polling station, as are the men who assaulted her. They are in a backroom, "controlling" everything in the precinct.

People go into the booth, she says, then come out and show their ballots to prove they voted National Movement. Even the observers were bought off by the ruling party, Chapidze alleges.

What do you want to know?

Comments? Questions? Post them here, and we'll respond.

It goes both ways: ruling party alleges opposition violations

The ruling National Movement presented alleged elections violations perpetrated by opposition campaigners. Again, we have not substantiated these:

"1. Gori region - Mamuka Mamukashvili had no right to represent his party (New Rights) as the observer. Because he was imprisoned on the accusation of attempting to rig the election on January 5. He has been released and participated in the elections as the observer at poll station number 21. He has been driven out.
2. Lagodekhi. Representative of the Labor Party Ketevan Talakhvadze STOLE the registration list from the poll station number 21. She has not been found yet."

Davit Bakradze, the ex-foreign minister and top name on the ruling party's electoral list, will give a briefing in 15 minutes.

CEC latest: turnout 21.8% by midday

According to the latest CEC figures, voter turnout was 21.8% by midday. Aspindza had the highest turnout at 39.2% while Tianeti had less than 1% turnout.

Voter turnout in Tbilisi was 20%: Mtatsminda district was highest at 22.9% while Isani had the lowest at 17.7%.

Christian Democrats allege violations

Below is a press release from Giorgi Targamadze's Christian Democratic Party, which is expected to perform strongly today and has hitherto been more moderate than most other opposition parties.

They allege these violations, none of which we've substantiated:
CDP chokhatauri Majoritarian candidate Magda kotrikadze reports - in the village of Gogolisubani, a gambebeli Shukri Sikharulidze broke into the precinct three times and sinked many ballots into the ballot box. The information is being provided to the observers. CDP representative already filed a complaint on this
The same Magda Kotrikadze reports that in the precinct #37, in the village of Chachieti, the representative of the CDP was provided problems and was forced to leave the territory of the precinct.
CDP Gardabani branch reports that in the village of Martkopi, active falsification is being made with the help of "carousels". Circa 200 voters already voted 4 times in 4 different precincts.
CDP: In #11 precinct in the village of Gachiani, UNM activists are in the building with UNM flags and other attributes valling on to vote for UNM. Marking is not made on this precinct also.
CDP Gurjaani branch representatives: in almost all of the precincts in Gurjaani, UNM activists cater around the doors of the precinct and in some cases ask, and in some cases force voters to circle #5 (UNM). Also, there are numerous cases of voting twice - the votes is pronounced ill and is brought ballot box home to vote, then he turns up at the precinct and votes as a healthy voter.
CDP representative in Kardenakhi #31 precinct Khatuna Vardiashvili reports that anonyomous calls trying to indimitade her and her family are being made starting this morning.
CDP reports that at Chumlaki #48 precinct, from a mercedes car, number 907 (series is unknown as of now), a mobile ballot box was brought out and in the yard, ballots were being placed there massively
CD Akhalkalaki branch reports several cases where a citizen voted with other citizen's ID
CDP Upper Abkhazia (Kodori Valley) branch reports that most of their voters there were taken out of the voters' list. Military personnel is mobilized, and apparently, military personnel in this region are more than normal voters.
CDP Achara branch reports a complicated situation in Kobuleti district, where the voters taken to the precincts by the movement (?) were forced out of the precinct, and the drivers of the cars were stripped of driver licenses. They are calling on international organizations for help.

Government official calls for calm

An Interior Ministry spokeswoman appealed to the opposition to remain calm in a televised address.

The spokeswoman said that an incident earlier in the day when a voter was shot dead outside a polling station was a personal matter that should not be used by the opposition for political leverage.

She also said that two have been arrested after a scuffle broke out between National Movement and United Opposition activists in Kutaisi and that a member of the Equality Institute, a pro-opposition NGO, has been arrested in Khasuri after he was found with dozens of ballots.

Interior Ministry: Abkhaz open fire on voters

Abkhaz militia opened fire on two buses carrying Georgian voters from Gali region to Zugdidi over the Enguri bridge, according to an Interior Ministry spokesperson.

Several are reported injured.

UPDATE: Rustavi 2 footage from Gali/Zugdidi shows elderly women carrying parasols ducking as automatic gunfire and explosions go off.

One wounded woman shown. Dark plumes of smoke in the background, apparently from a destroyed bus.

Opposition leader said beaten in Zugdidi

Multiple sources report that Koba Davitashvili was beaten up in Zugdidi, where he is running for the district's majoritarian seat.

It wouldn't be the first time. On November 7, as riot police violently dispersed anti-government protests, Davitashvili was kidnapped from a bazroba and severely beaten by unknown men. There were no prosecutions in that case.

UPDATE: National Movement claims Davitashvili first beat a woman on the precinct commission in the village of Rukhi, who then beat him up. Their words, not ours.

Shootout in Gali

There are reports of shootings in Gali, the southern ethnic Georgian-populated district of separatist Abkhazia.

More details to follow.

Saakashvili: We hold this election under pressure and blackmail

President Mikheil Saakashvili called today’s election a “very important test for Georgian democracy and the Georgian people.”

Accompanied by First Lady Sandra Roelofs and sporting a pink shirt with a polka-dotted tie, Saakashvili said the international community—both friends and enemies—are watching the elections closely, as he cast his vote at 2 p.m. down the road from our office in Vake district.

Georgia is in a very difficult situation at the moment. We hold this election under pressure and blackmail.”

Russia has been ramping up its involvement in Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia, dispatching more troops and deepening links with the region’s separatist administration.

“I want to ask you to support international and local observers, to prevent any kind of violations, because it is the most important thing for our national security, peace and our future,” the president said.

The Dutch-born Roelofs, who is voting for the first time after becoming a Georgian citizen earlier this year, joked that choosing a candidate “was not a difficult decision.”

“I hope everyone will make a proper choice, as I did.”

nGnI: PEC chair resigns in Gori

A representative for New Generation New Initiative (nGnI), a domestic NGO observing the elections, told the Messenger that after filing a complaint to the CEC, the chairman of a PEC in Gori has stepped down.

The organization reported ten cases of voters using other people’s ID cards to cast votes at polling station #38, the representative said, and that following the subsequent resignation of the PEC chairman, his deputy has taken over.

She also said that nGnI observers have reported technical problems with voter-ink marking systems elsewhere.

Reporter attacked in Zugdidi

Rustavi 2 journalist Natia Bandzeladze said she was attacked by a group of young men in Zugdidi, the last major town on the way to breakaway Abkhazia. Her video camera was taken. No word as to why.

Turnout at 22 percent by noon

The CEC reported turnout to be just under 22 percent nationwide by noon.

Its higher than noon turnout in the January presidential election, but the voters list has had tens of thousands of entries revised since then, so the numbers are not directly comparable.

Republicans vote for ‘the government Georgia deserves’

Republican leader Davit Usupashvili and his wife Tina Khidasheli, an MP running for a majoritarian seat, voted just past 11 a.m. in the capital’s Saburtalo district.

Accompanied by their two children, Usupashvili said he was casting his ballot “for a better future, because this county deserves one. I want Georgia to get the government it deserves through fair elections.”

The moderate liberal Republicans have cast themselves as the “rational” alternative to the ruling party. On a talk-show last night, Usupashvili said it wasn’t enough to vote out the government—Georgia also needs to vote in someone better.

“Today is my child’s eighth birthday,” Khidasheli told the throng of news crews, “so I want this day to be as happy for me as it was eight years ago. This country deserves it.”

The Republicans, a three-decade old party with a handful of members in the previous parliament, are struggling to clear the five percent minimum vote threshold for seats.

(There is a legal injunction on publishing opinion survey results before the polls close this evening at 8 p.m., so there will be no numbers beyond turnout posted until then. You can browse earlier posts for a look at party standings.)

Snapshot of voting across Tbilisi

As voters headed to polling stations across Tbilisi this morning, Messenger journalists caught up with a few to take a snapshot of the public mood.

At a polling station in Nadzaladevi district voters trickled in with officials saying they didn’t expect a flurry of activity until the early afternoon.

Levan Khachapuridze, a 51-year-old sports teacher who voted for the National Movement there said his chosen candidate was “not an angel” but better than the competition.

While voting appears to have been mostly normal in the capital, voters in at least two polling stations were angry after not finding their names in voting lists.

A polling station in Saburtalo opened 15 minutes late, and a representative of the United Opposition said that a ruling party member of the election commission had temporarily replaced an opposition member, prompting concern.

Ramaz, a 64-year-old professor hoping to vote in Saburtalo, said after finding his name not in the voter list in one polling station he was denied access to another where he was informed he had already been marked with voter-ink.

“I feel cheated and disenfranchised. I feel that the elections will be rigged by the CEC, probably under orders from the ruling party,” he said.

In Gildani some voters expressed fear that voting for opposition candidates would jeopardize jobs of family members who work in the public sector.

“I want to vote for the other candidate, but I am scared. My daughter has a job. What if they see my decision and sack her?” Liana, a 59-year-old housewife voting in Gldani district said.

Polls are open for a critical election

Polls opened at 8 a.m. local time for voting in Georgia’s parliamentary elections.

Today’s elections were preceded by a contentious, confrontational campaign—this vote is not just a political competition, but a stress test for Georgian democracy.

Voting has not been entirely smooth. The ruling party and the opposition are trading accusations of misbehavior at a scattering of polling stations. And tragically, a man was shot dead in western Georgia. Police say it was not election related; an opposition leader claimed the victim was a party activist on his way to vote.

We’ll be bringing you up-to-the-minute election coverage, day and night. Our reporters are on the move, offering a trustworthy local perspective on this crucial day.

Keep reading.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Don't miss this

Final GQR survey:

Survey Shows United National Movement with Majority at End of Parliamentary Race in the Republic of Georgia, and Likely to Win a Strong Majority of Seats

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why the government will win the elections, and win big

Georgia’s next elections are on May 21, and odds are the government will win a two-thirds majority in parliament.

For those just tuning in, these elections were brought forward after the crisis in November. That month, after weeks of anti-government protests, riot police beat demonstrators and ransacked an opposition TV station before a state of emergency was declared. The president called a snap presidential election as an outlet for tensions, and to shore up his battered mandate.

Tensions eased, but not by much: Mikheil Saakashvili won reelection, but the opposition said the victory was rigged. Many voters agreed, particularly in the capital. In that poll, voters also supported a referendum to hold the next parliamentary elections this spring. A significant minority suspect these will be dodgy too.

There will be a government victory, and there will be protests.

Here’s why:

Long-planned changes mean parliament is shrinking from 235 seats to 150. Controversial amendments in March divided those seats in two, the halves elected through parallel systems: 75 seats by country-wide voting on party lists, and 75 by voting for local candidates in single-mandate districts. (More on that in a moment.)

The ruling National Movement is at 52 percent support with likely voters, according to a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll done in late April, with 12 percent undecided. GQR projects the National Movement will pick up 5 points from those undecideds on election day.

The DC-based GQR is advising the government’s campaign. It outsourced the fieldwork to local firm ACT. The opposition say both are biased, and skeptics suggest the results are a guideline for vote-riggers. But GQR very neatly called the January presidential election, so for our intents and purposes it doesn’t matter whether the poll is entirely kosher. It can be assumed to be reasonably accurate in predicting final results.

If the National Movement does get 57 percent on election day, as GQR predicts, they will likely end up with 105-109 seats in total, or more than seven in ten seats in parliament.

In fact, by my count, the ruling party could get away with as little as 44 percent of the total vote, and still carry a two-thirds majority in parliament.

How? Here are the details, with apologies for the wonkiness:

Half of the 150-seat parliament is elected by nation-wide voting on closed party lists. Parties must get at least five percent of the vote to enter parliament. Once in, seats are calculated in a crude proportional manner: a party’s percentage of the total vote multiplied by the 75 available seats.

(According to the Central Election Commission’s legal department, all fractions of a seat will be lopped off and the whole number used. (E.g. 4.4 seats and 4.6 seats both become four seats.) The leftover seats are allocated one by one to the parties which make it into parliament, starting with the highest vote-getter.

The language in the election code is ambiguous, but a CEC spokesman said there is no dispute over interpretation.)

There are 12 parties or blocs in the elections, four or five of which are viable: the ruling National Movement, the nine-party opposition coalition (United National Council), the recently-formed Christian Democratic Party, the populist Labor Party and possibly the moderate Republicans.

If the National Movement gets 57 percent in the party list voting and, as the GQR poll suggests, six percent goes to parties which don’t clear the bar, the ruling party wins 42 seats + 1. If the Republicans don’t make it into parliament, the National Movement would get 44 of the 75 proportionally-allocated seats.

Now we come to the “majoritarian” seats, which are elected from 75 single-representative districts. The ruling party will sweep these.

Almost every one of these 75 districts pits a government candidate against at least two viable opposition candidates, and often four or five. (The exception is Tsageri district, where the ruling party incumbent withdrew from the race and cannot be replaced.)

Voters are polarized: there’s pro-government, and there’s anti-government. Opposition parties are trying to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack by trading accusations of collusion with the government, but the net effect is a muddle of opposition parties on one side, and the government on the other.

A majoritarian candidate needs a minimum of 30 percent to win without a runoff—so you will see the opposition splitting the vote across Georgia, leaving the ruling party candidate ahead and, in most cases, with a victory on a plurality of the vote.

(This is one of two reasons the opposition cried foul when the government introduced this system in March. The second is that less-populated rural areas will, overall, have more majoritarian representatives than densely populated—and opposition-friendly—urban areas like Tbilisi.

There are also two stories on how these constitutional amendments made it through: the government says the opposition missed a chance to pass their favored ‘regional proportional’ system by boycotting a parliament session. Opposition politicians say the government pulled a bait-and-switch on them, rewriting the amendments’ language literally hours before the vote. Someone is lying.)

Outside of Tbilisi, there are a handful of districts which will go to the opposition:

Dusheti, which gave to the world Shalva Natelashvili, the Labor leader, voted for Shalva in the presidential election and will vote him into parliament on May 21.

Tsageri, now missing its incumbent, will probably go to Goga Asatiani of the UNC.

Districts potentially in play include: Tianeti, Akhmeta, Kutaisi, Batumi and all of Tbilisi. Chiatura, Mestia and Chkorotsku have incumbents running with the opposition, and Guria region could be up for grabs.

The next blog post will look more closely at these and other district match-ups.

For now, I’d say the opposition gets 10–13 of these seats, with the faint possibility of more if their GOTV effort can force runoffs.

This leaves the government with 62–65 of the majoritarian districts. At most they need only 38 seats from the party list voting—50 or 49 points, depending on how the Republicans fare—for a tenuous supermajority.

44 points and the Republicans missing the five percent bar could still mean two-thirds of parliament for the National Movement. And they could poll as low as 14 percent on election day but walk away with more than half the seats.

That’s one prediction. The second is this: there will be post-election protests—that much is written in stone—and demonstrators will not be happy if they see the government carrying half the vote but winning two-thirds of parliament.

Hang on to your hats.