Fraudulent Elections Held in the Kakheti Region
Snap Presidential elections in the Kakheti region on January 5th, 2008, saw numerous, blatant violations. Voters were terrorized, the Election Code was disregarded in polling stations, independent observers were prevented from carrying out their activities and one person even pushed dozens of ballots into the ballot box. Despite the serious nature of these complaints from NGOs and the Central Election Commission, many foreign observers and the Georgian government have assessed the elections as fair.
“Either Number 5 or Prison! Do Not Dare Deceive us!”
Law enforcement officers greeted voters arriving at polling stations with similar phrases, standing in the building where the polling site was located or just outside it. On January 5th, you could see Soso Martashvili, the head of the Isani-Samgori District Police Division in Tbilisi, in Kakheti promoting Mikheil Saakashvili in Kardenakhi Election District of the Gurjaani Election Precinct # 12. Georgian MP Ioseb Kardenakhishvili was in Gurjaani, praising Mikheil Saakashvili everywhere he went that day. Public officials from various regions of Georgia were mobilized near the polling stations in their native villages, including the Kakheti area.
“Either number 5 or prison! Do not dare to deceive us!” Such words could be heard from policemen and representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office dressed in civil form.
“If you want to receive fuel to cultivate your plots; if you want financial allowances from social programs; if you want to maintain your job, you must circle number 5,” threatened representatives of the local governments and Saakashvili supporters.
To avoid suspicion of their choices, intimidated voters filled out their ballots in the open, in front of their harassers, instead of going into the polling booths. Those who chose not to fill their ballots publicly were actively “supported” by representatives and observers of the Racio Legi NGO, who in fact were activists from the National Movement.
“Before we arrived at Velistsikhe Polling Station # 15, Gurjaani Governor Ramaz Kerechashvili and other officials met us and ordered us to vote for Mikheil Saakashvili if we wanted to get our monetary allowances,” said voter Giorgi Gelitashvili. “There were four of us who entered into the polling station together. My two neighbors did not go into the polling booths and circled Saakashvili in public, while the other two people entered the booths. They gave us three papers and I could not make out what they were asking voters, so I asked for help and a young person accompanied me into the booth. He told me to circle number 5 but that I could leave the other two lists without circling anything since they were not important. I then heard some noise outside. People were demanding that my companion leave the booth. When he left, I made my decision and circled a candidate from the opposition.”
Activists from the leading party were also working against other presidential candidates in a more direct, negative way. Murtaz Shaluashvili of the National Movement was an observer from the NGO “Racio Legi” in Kardenakhi Polling Station # 33. He was shouting “Urias” (an insulting name for Jewish people in Georgia) at people who supported Badri Patarkatsishvili. Levan Gachechiladze’s supporters were called traitors.
Independent Georgian observers were harassed during the whole process of elections. These people trying to prevent violations found in several cases that their legitimate activities could get them expelled from the polling stations. Before being kicked out, observers were ordered to tear out their complaints submitted to the official record book.
“The chairpersons of the Election Commission were shouting at observers from the morning on and did not let them work properly,” said Lia Khuroshvili, lawyer for the Human Rights Center. “It was problematic for us to record complaints in the Record Book. The commission chairpersons were insulting the monitors and unauthorized people in the polling situation without any right threatened monitors with physical assault.”
She added that representatives of the NGO “New Generation-New Initiative” did not have similar problems even though they were also observing the elections. Khuroshvili said that when observers from the NGO Coalition for Democracy filed official complaints to the Record Book on various violations, the representatives of New Generation-New Initiative and the Fair Elections NGO refused to sign the complaint. Moreover, monitors from the New Generation-New Initiative group were wearing scarves and hats with the number five on them in the Bodbiskhevi polling station in the Sighnaghi Election Precinct.
According to monitors from the Human Rights Center, particularly grave violations were observed in the Iormughanlo Election District of the Sagarejo Election Precinct. Nari Arakh Berdiani, the chairperson of the Mughanlo Election District and Rizvan Abasov, deputy chairperson of the same district, were accompanying voters into the polling booths. This occurred despite many notes from observers, with the officials bold enough to circle the number five for Mikheil Saakashvili instead of the voters themselves. Supervisors of the polling box would not give voters envelopes until they showed them their ballot paper with Saakashvili’s number 5 circled.
“Similar violations were detected in almost every polling station in the villages of the Kakheti region which are mostly populated by ethnic minorities,” said Khuroshvili.
The polling station in the village of Kabli in Lagodekhi PEC, which is inhabited by ethnic Azerbaijanis, the chairperson, deputy chairperson and secretary of the polling station accompanied voters into the polling booths and were circling number five on their ballots. Most voters were not marked and people could vote several times. They did not even produce their IDs.
It is noteworthy that in Lagodekhi PEC, the voter’s list increased by 2,000 people the morning of the election. The evening of January 4th, 35,142 voters were registered in the PEC but the next morning that number had jumped to 37,018. The amendments included 234 more voters added to the list in Lagodekhi polling station # 2, 209 names added to the list in polling station # 3, and 93 more voters included in the voters’ list in polling station # 19.
Serious violations were observed in the polling station in the village of Chantliskuri in the Kvareli PEC. “The village is populated by ethnic Avars. They do not speak Georgian and consequently monitors were limited in that sense,” Khuroshvili said. “Alik Ramazanov, a voter who did not have an ID, managed to vote five times in the Chantliskure polling station. Additionally, as voters were unable to fill in ballot papers independently and the voting regulations were not put up in polling booths nor anywhere else in the polling stations, Ramazanov was accompanying voters into the booths according to the directions of the Election Commission Chairperson, Magamed Gaji Magamedov. Ramazanov was circling Saakashvili’s number instead of the voters. Thirty-one similar instances were observed by monitors. After observers made several remarks on similar violations, Ramazanov left the station. He turned out to be a member of the National Movement. We filed an official complaint to the Record Book and other observers also signed the document.”
Violations also took place in the Karajala Polling Station in the Telavi PEC, another village nearly totally populated by Azerbaijanis. Voters were not marked. Otar Svimonishvili, a supporter of Mikheil Saakashvili, followed voters into the polling booths in polling station #38 and circled the number five on their ballots. Having made remarks about violations, observers found that the chairperson of the polling station was trying to expel them from the building. He called Mikheil Saakashvili’s Election HQ in Telavi and requested directions on election procedures, specifically asking the candidate’s representatives if he had to register the complaints the observers filed into the Record Book. The observers eventually succeeded and the complaints were registered. Since the voters were not marked in three polling stations in Karajala, they were able to vote in various places and without signing the Unified List of Voters.
According to the Coalition Voter NGO, Vano Feikrishvili, who works in the Telavi Municipality Administrative Board, visited Polling Station # 1 in the Telavi PEC # 17 at 1:00 PM. After leaving the polling booth, she pushed a pile of ballot papers into the ballot box and rushed out of the polling station. The incident was observed by local and Latvian observers. Georgian observers requested a suspension in the voting process in the polling station and sealed the Record Books, actions that were overturned by the Central Election Commission. The station was reopened by the Telavi PEC and voting resumed.
“At about 15:30, unidentified people pushed ballot papers into the polling box in the Gulgula Polling Station of Telavi PEC #16, and was observed by representatives of the opposition parties,” said Giorgi Lomashvili, representative of the political party Tavisufleba. “I was beaten because of my protest. The police did not react to the incident at all. Voting was stopped temporally there as well, though it was resumed soon after on the order of the CEC. There were many unauthorized people in the polling station.”
After ballot papers were counted in Kardenakhi Polling Station # 33 of Gurjaani PEC #12, it appeared that there were 739 signatures in the voter’s lists. After the votes were counted, however, there were 934 ballots submitted, a surplus of 195 votes. After polling stations were closed down and votes were counted, election commission members were leaving and coming back to the station after consulting with the members of the National Movement.
Officials at the Georgian Central Election Commission do not deny that the election was held with violations. However, Levan Tarkhnishvili, the chairperson of the CEC, stated that they have not observed any serious violations during the polling process. “There were some violations but not very serious,” said Tarkhnishvili. “Finally, the election was fair and can be proved by the number of complaints the CEC has received.”
Eka Tkesheleashvili, the Minister of Justice, stated that the government immediately acted on violations during elections, which could be proven by the Telavi incident.
According to Eka Tkeshelashvili, Ivane Feikrishvili, an employee from the Telavi Municipality, who was trying to push several ballot papers into the ballot box in Telavi Polling Station # 1, was detained.
“It is not identified which candidate Feikrishvili was voting for but it does not make any difference. A criminal case was launched against him,” said Tkeshelashvili.
The minister explained that no one can make statements in favor of any candidate at the poling stations, but that outside the station it is not a violation, nor is it a violation to do so outside the office.
On January 5th, representatives of the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the Estonian and Latvian Observer Missions estimated that the Georgian presidential elections as democratic. In large part, Georgian observers disagree.
Gela Mtivlishvili, Kakheti
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