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Hard Lost Elections: 93 people registered in one flat!

07.05.2008
Overcoming “innovative” vote rigging?

Nona Suvariani, Tbilisi

The pre-election campaign, as it was already predicted, is heating up and getting tenser. The opposition actively complains about less than a level playing field and attempts to rig up-coming parliamentary elections. The Central Election Commission (CEC) has introduced amendments to the Election Code in response to many complaints.  However, the changes have only impacted the opposition in some ways. This begs the question as what will be final impact of the recently adopted amendments. Will there be any difference between the parliamentary elections and other rigged elections? Will election be fraud and what frauds can be expected?

The assessment of vote rigging should start before and not after elections. We can evaluate the situation according to the facts associated with just how equal are conditions for all the slate of candidates. The opposition has answered this question very clearly. In reply, they can either smile or become irritated. However, the leading party claims that the pre-election campaign is a level playing field for everybody.

Zakaria Kutsnashvili, the director of the Association “Law for People” thinks it is enough to walk in the Tbilisi streets to become sure just how equal are conditions provided for every candidate. “The billboards in the city are red (color of the leading party). You cannot see any billboard with the poster of opposition party. The advertising agencies are prohibited from renting the billboards to the opposition parties.”

Tina Khidasheli, the parliamentary majoritarian (single mandate candidate) from the Republican Party in Saburtalo district in Tbilisi, states that the government has at its disposal substantial financial resources to fight them with. However, during this pre-election campaign, aside from traditional budget expenses, the ruling party can also tap the war chest of money provided by Georgian business representatives that donated for the purpose of supporting Georgian politics. Moreover, she adds that that entire pre-election campaign of the candidates from the leading party is based largely on budgetary activities.

Tina Khidasheli stated that the leading party takes advantage of the media sources in tandem with budgetary means. In spite that the number of the talk-shows has increased in the run-up to elections the overall picture has not been changed. “Pre-election campaign has not reflected on the TV Company “Mze” at all. The fact that, three days a week of the TV Company “Rustavi 2” are completely free from election campaign demonstrates just how biased it is.”

Tina Khidasheli cannot accept the format of the Rustavi 2 offered to the audience because it carries the character of a propagandist. They want to make it appear as if the leading party is eternal and the rest of the parties will be replaced.

The candidate does not like the colors of the studio where one of the talk shows is conducted. The whole program staged propaganda of the National Movement. The studio is painted in red and white. They should not tell us that these are colors of our national flag. I know it but we also know that they are election colors of the leading party. We did not hope that before these elections “Rustavi 2” should lose its mind and somehow be turn into an independent TV Company.”

Zakaria Kutsnashvili speaks about another feature of the on-going election campaign. “Today the leading party does not have an outstanding leader who could lead the election campaign. The president has had to assume all responsibilities in his persona. Everyday he appeals to people and this does not compare to how things were before when there were several such leaders.”

Why has the level of violence increased before the elections?

Methods of violence and deals have been refined in the period before parliamentary elections.

As it has already been pointed out what is transpiring during the pre-election campaign are directly connected with the anticipated outcomes of the elections. We can speak about those threats, such as blackmailing, or cut deals that are becoming more and more frequent both the regions as well as Tbilisi. Such incidences have also been increased in number with the approaching elections. Taken together, the situation can be explained in several ways.

Tina Khidasheli: “At least 75 parliamentary majoritarian candidates are chasing after his/her own interests. The candidates of the leading party or district governors or ever the head of the district police department, and others with close connection with them are still people. Consequently, their activities are not centralized; everybody has their personal interests to look out for and they are ready to spend all resources in achieving their goals.”

It is now clear that methods of violence have also been refined. According to Zakaria Kutsnashvili’s information, not only candidates are suppressed but their relatives and friends too. “In this way they try to neutralize or even more, to get rid of some candidates standing in elections, which include active public and even poetical figures. Such acts represent pure forms of violence.”

There is yet another tendency that was observed during the current pre-election campaign. Reportedly, many prisoners have been recently released from prison. Those people were arrested such crimes as using drugs. Tina Khidasheli explained that the relatives of these prisoners were ordered to gather certain amount of signatures in favor of the leading party. However, unlike the presidential elections, the person who has signed the paper must not participate in the actual elections on May 21.

“During the Presidential elections they made a mistake. Then, they demanded those people who promised to vote for Misha Saakashvili actually do so. However, having come to the election district they voted for different person and it was then very clear to all to see in the results. It was especially evident by election results in Tbilisi. Now, these people are demanded to sign but they must not show up to the election districts at all to cast their ballots. It is very easy to check. The low turnout of voters will work in bringing victory to the leading party. Consequently, they challenge the populace and promised to release their brothers, fathers from prison, or not make them to have to pay some administrative fine. If there are people who respect similar people in the neighborhood they should advise them not to show up for the elections.”

Unlike the candidate from the Republic Party, Eka Siradze, the Executive Director of the non-governmental organization “International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy”, thinks that in comparison to the presidential elections the current pre-election campaign is much calmer. The facts of threatening and suppression are fewer in number as well. However, local self-governmental bodies still interfere in the activities of the election administration.

“A representative of the opposition party was elected as the chairperson of one of the election districts in Ambrolauri. After that the representative of the local self-government made the election administration to hold a repeat meeting and then changed the chairperson. It is evident that there are fewer chairpersons and their deputies from the side of opposition parties.”

Amendments Introduced to the Election Code

The pre-election campaign is going on alongside the controversy between the Public Defender and the Chairperson of the CEC too. The loud statements of the Georgian Ombudsman towards Levan Tarkhnishvili, the chairperson of the CEC, followed one of those changes that were introduced to the Election Code. The transparency of the election process is directly connected with the efficiency of the Code. What kind of Election Code do we have before the Parliamentary Elections? How will it support carrying out fair and transparent elections?

“I think the changes regarding the video-recording demonstrated that the international community cannot do much in this country,” said Tina Khidasheli. Georgian society protested over this amendment and actively questioned what was going on with video-recordings of the polling process. With the changes these are no longer considered as public information. The people who are at that particular district can demand to see the recording and they can see only a 15-minute-long segment. Zakaria Kutsnashvili speaks about how these changes have had a blocking effect as it has been inserted in the amendments.

“The commission is in power to satisfy the request. The majority of these commissions, seven people, are from leading party. They will state that the person who wants to see the video recording is a spy or something and will satisfy his/her request but once.”

In fact, interested people could not even view the video-recordings following the presidential elections. Eka Siradze stated that her organization failed to use this resource because all their appeals were not taken up and discussed by the courts. Supposedly, similar situation will be repeated in the up-coming elections. The situation could be even worse. If the court discusses the appeal, they will hesitate to use the video recording as a proof during the trial. Thus, it is not excluded that the recording of the violation will again remain worthless. It does not matter that Georgian population pays much for the installation of those vide-cameras in each election district throughout the country but cannot benefit from what is caught on film.

One more amendment states that members of the opposition parties should be presented to election district, precincts and the CEC as well. This amendment is positive. Tina Khidasheli pointed out that the presidential elections were rigged in the various Election Precincts. However, even in this case the final report was confirmed according to the adopted resolution.

Zakaria Kutsnashvili: “Problems will emerge after the elections when the counting process will start. When it is time to draw up a legal document based on what a certain party should be winner. For example, one party has 6 representatives in the commission, the second has seven. Thus, the party with seven people will have power to confirm the final report in favor of their party. In fact, the participation of the opposition is on the level of observer and they do not have decision making authority.”

Tina Khidasheli further takes exception in protesting yet one more amendments. The ballot paper on what all candidates will be marked will be canceled. In the past, similar ballot papers were annulled but not cancelled under the election process. Based on the amendments, voters who do not support any candidates cannot be considered as valid participant in the elections.

“I think there must be a special question on the ballot paper “against every candidate.” The state must not declare similar voter that s/he was not at the elections and his/her vote is not counted.”

Zakaria Kutsnashvili: “3 % of voters crossed every candidate during the Presidential Elections on January 5. Their factual number was 60,000. Following the amendments, the limit of 30 % barrier will be now lowered and they will count 30 % among valid voters. In the past ballot papers with all candidates crossed included that 30 %. Finally we will receive minus 60, 000 votes, which is an important number for parliamentary elections.

Additional amendments to the Election Code deals with the withdrawal of the overall number of valid ballot papers from the report and that will demonstrate the numbers of signatures on the election lists. As a result, special and ordinary lists will not be separated.

Positive amendments were also introduced to the Election Code. However, as it later was found out, all those changes had some faults too. Eka Siradze speaks about those faults.

“It is positive that additional lists will not be drawn up on the Election Day because those lists were very useful in the process of vote rigging. The report will have the number of that special district from where it will be sent and where the ballot papers will not be counted. Such districts are military ones and we recommended counting the number of ballot papers cast in these districts; though the CEC chose not to consider our recommendation.

It is also positive that after filing the complaint the law orders the election administration to estimate mistakes and allocate a certain amount of time to overcome mistakes. However, we have only 24 hours for filing; besides that the 24 hours is counted since the decision is reached and not since the time a concrete person was informed of the situation. It is very short period of time and it is very difficult for every organization to stay and wait for the commission to discuss their claims.”

However, the CEC took the advantage of this mechanism very well. During the previous elections the voter as a rule were not informed when their complaints were discussed. Thus, they had to post a “guard” at the CEC.

Zakaria Kutsnashvili speaks about one more positive amendment that was introduced based on Constitutional requirement. It is lowering of election barrier from seven to 5 percent. This amendment increased the level of protection for political minorities and makes it easier to overcome the barrier.

Do the amendments introduced to the Election Code support election rigging? What kind of election fraud should now expect during elections.

How will the up-coming elections be carried out? This question is very urgent for the future of Georgia because the elections of May 21 will decide how we will live on. However, we can already predict what will happen on the Election Day according to the amendments introduced to the Code and based on the pre-election campaign.

We asked this question to our respondents and they expect the elections will be flawed at the elections.

Eka Siradze stated that the election lists are best instrument to flaw the results. She calls the lists “Achilles Heel”. “The Fair Elections checked the election lists electronically. We detected quite serious faults among them. There were recordings where the names were not indicated whatsoever or consisted of only two symbols. The same kind of situation exists with surnames too.

Having checked the personal numbers we found more than 53,000 duplications. We sent the information to the CEC. Later we saw on the new lists that some mistakes were corrected. But other problems have also been detected; there are 1002 voters on the list of those who will turn 18 after May 21, 2008.”

Tina Khidasheli stated that she has 16,167 voters registered in flats as groups in Saburtalo district. One flat has 93 people registered. In general, dead people, under-age people and immigrants who are not likely to take part in the elections, which is characteristic for Georgian elections. Although, the lists are checked from one election to the following, dead people are still registered in the election lists. Who benefits from dead people on the lists?

Zakari Kutsnashvili: “It is very important who will register voters at the election districts. The list of voters have been lowered to 1 500 at each district. Thus, if there are five registrator at the district each of them will receive only 300 people.

“Two out of thirteen commission members are more likely to be representatives of the government. Somewhere they might be four too. Just imagine 3-4 registrator who controls 900-1200 votes.  Who controls how honestly they check the IDs because observers have no right to approach the registration table. The observers have their definite place three meters away from the registration table. From that distance the observer cannot detect whether the IDs are valid. Voters can sign wherever s/he wants on the election list and nobody will guess what happened.

Zakaria Kutsnashvili states that there are eight methods to rig the elections by election lists. Commission can use the names of sick people, immigrants and people who are registered on the list double times. So, a person with invalid documents can also vote.

Zakaria Kutsnashvili predicts that the up-coming elections will also be rigged according to those methods. Nearly 500-600 voters will be at each election district who will not be able to participate the polls because of various reasons. However, their place for signature will be free and the commission member should definitely know about it in advance and other voter will sign instead of real one. For example, immigrated and dead voters are within nearly 700-750 marked voters whose IDs were not introduced. Similar problems are characteristic for villages where even death certificates are not demanded.

Although the controversy between the opposition and CEC about the election lists is still under way, although the CEC prolonged the time for checking the lists for three days and the opposition makes changed in them, Tina Khidasheli still expects that lists will be mixed up. “I expect the same situation to happen that occurred during the elections of local self-government. They mixed up lists during the last three days. We had the photos of the initial lists during local governmental elections. Even the chairpersons of the commission were very annoyed and complained in front of cameras. They claimed the amended lists were provided three days before the polls. Besides that, now we will not have additional lists. They secure themselves in those districts where the ruling party is supposed to lose; there additional people will not be allowed to vote.”

Elections will be rigged based on a very simple amendment too which deals with the voter who does not vote for any candidate.
 
Zakaria Kutsnashvili: “This amendment gives us the opportunity to predict this kind of scenario. For example, two candidates will agree to invalidate the ballot papers with the names of other candidates and validate the ballot papers where their names are circled. If this method is used during the elections the voters voting against all candidates comprising 3 % of the eligible voters will rise to the 5-6 % level. This is expected to happen during the elections of single mandate MPs. 5-6 candidates are nominated in this district but in fact 1-2 are serious candidates. These two candidates will agree and “invalidate” the vote of others. The ruling party is not interested in proportional elections, it is more important to push through single mandate MPs for seats in the parliament”

One method of falsifying the election that Zakaria Kutsnashvili expects can be used during endorsing the summary protocols. “I have already told you how these protocols are endorsed. 7 people approve them by raising their hands. The opposition’s participation in this process will be just a formality. If 2/3 was necessary for endorsing the protocols then they would need 2-3 commission members from the side of the opposition but now when the number of ruling party representatives is enough. They are in the position to write-in false data in the election protocols without any problems or they can even make-up new protocols.”

Eka Siradze states that the presidential election fraud is encouraged by another amendment of the Election Code of Georgia.

“The protocols might cause many problems. It is not that the problems will be created premeditatedly. The precinct election commissions are no longer responsible for making sure that the number of ballots received matches the amount of those that had been used. The commissions are not accountable for counting the used ballots; consequently they are not accountable for recounting the amount of votes cast for individual parties and how these match those numbers with the total amounts casts in order to determine whether there are any inconsistencies between counts. The prescription about it was deleted from the law. This will create protocols with unbalanced data.  We used to have this kind of protocols but now we shall have many more. If the members of the commission had been responsible for filling up these kinds of gaps, the situation has changed and they do not have to do it anymore.”

“Eye Witness of yet another Revolution”

It was often mentioned during the presidential election that the population was much more interested in what would happed on the second day of the election then on January 5. Today 21st of May is more important. Why? Either the opposition is convinced that the election on May 21 will be fair or they understand that the situation is even more tensed during the parliamentary election and they will not have the opportunity to get back as they did on the parliamentary election.

Zakaria Kutsnashvili: “All these observable facts of the election make us think that this election will also not be fair. If this presupposition turns out to be true, then the Georgian society will see yet another revolution, and this is not good. Georgian society will be divided into two parts: those that will be involved in the revolution and another part that will be only an onlooker. I fear that if the opposition gives in, in case there is the election fraud, then the opposition will have no option but lead the people towards revolution.”

He concludes that the best remedy for preventing a revolution is to hold free and fair election.

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