Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tbilisi seeks to replace Russian peacekeepers after Georgian plane downed

Georgia is demanding an official apology and compensation from Moscow for the downing of an unmanned spy plane over Abkhazia last month, after a UN investigation concluded Russia was to blame for the attack.

Tbilisi is using the UN investigation’s unusually unequivocal findings to push its case that Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia must be replaced. President Mikheil Saakashvili said yesterday that Russia had undermined its role in Georgia’s separatist regions with the incident.

“It is entirely clear…especially after this latest official conclusion, that Russia on its own effectively canceled the existing [peacekeeping] format. It claims to be peacekeeping, while at the same time executing armed attacks against the state in which it claims to be doing this peacekeeping,” Saakashvili said in a televised session of the country’s National Security Council.

Saakashvili said his government would carefully consult its allies to engineer a safe revision of the peacekeeping arrangement. [More]

Monday, May 26, 2008

UN backs Georgia over drone claim

A Russian jet did shoot down an unmanned Georgian drone over the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia last month, UN monitors say. The jet flew back into Russian airspace after the attack, the UN report says.

Russia has denied the charges - even though Georgia's defence ministry released video appearing to show a Russian MiG-29 shooting down the drone.

Tensions over Abkhazia have soared, with Georgia and Russia accusing each other of a military build-up. Moscow accuses Georgia of preparing to invade its breakaway region, where many residents hold Russian passports. Georgia says Russia is preparing to annex the region. [More]

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Georgia Votes

An exit poll suggests President Mikhail Saakashvili's governing party has won parliamentary elections in Georgia.

Mr Saakashvili's United National Movement took 63% of the vote, said the exit poll - with the opposition trailing with 14%.

Opposition supporters gathered in the capital Tbilisi for a late night protest, saying the vote was rigged, but numbers fell short of expectations.

The vote is being seen as a test of Georgia's commitment to democracy.

The election took place amid fears of political unrest, and rising tensions between Georgia and Russia. [More]

Guide to the Georgian Parliamentary Elections

The Messenger released this guide to the elections:

Once scheduled for this fall, these elections were moved forward at voter insistence after the crisis of November 2007. To defuse tensions, President Mikheil Saakashvili called a snap presidential election for January, which was eventually accompanied by two referendums. One asked whether parliamentary elections should be rescheduled for spring, the other whether voters supported Georgian membership in NATO. Voters overwhelmingly favored holding parliamentary elections in spring. In April, Saakashvili announced the vote would be held on May 21.

Who’s running?

Three blocs and nine parties are competing.

1. Georgian Politics
2. Republican Party
3. Alliance of the Rights, Topadze-Industrialists
4. Labor Party
5. United National Movement-For Victorious Georgia
6. Georgian Sportsmen Union
7. United Opposition (National Council, New Rights)
8. National Party of Radical-Democrats of the whole Georgia
9. Christian-Democratic Alliance
10. Christian Democrats
11. Traditionalists-Our Georgia and Women Party
12. Our Country

The ruling National Movement, the United Opposition, the Christian Democrats, the Labor Party and the Republicans are expected to perform most strongly.

Who’s watching

More than a dozen foreign organizations are sending over 800 observers, including the OSCE and the US National Democratic Institute. Over 30 local NGOs are also expected to keep an eye on the polls.

Who’s voting

The total number of eligible voters was 3,465,736 as of May 12, according to the Central Election Commission.

Votes can be cast from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m Tbilisi time at a total of 3 358 regular precinct election commissions and 72 special polling stations in Georgia. Another 47 polling stations were opened abroad.

Who’s counting

There will be exit polling today, jointly carried out by a group including a state university, the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies and the small Washington-based firm QEV Analytics.

The exit poll project has attracted criticism from opposition campaigners, who claim it will be biased in favor of the ruling party. They have called on supporters to boycott the polling.

Exit polling and other survey results are not allowed to be published or broadcast until the polls close today.

Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT)—a process in which observers count votes at the same time election officials do—will be conducted by the New Generation-New Initiative NGO. It plans to carry out PVT in all election districts in the country and will dispatch a total of 1500 observers.

The first official results are expected late tonight or early tomorrow.

The rules

• Parliament is shrinking from 235 to 150 seats, all of which are up for grabs today. 75 MPs will be elected through country-wide party lists, and 75 party-nominated MPs will be elected from individual districts, one MP per district.
• Parties must get at least five percent of the vote to win seats in the party list voting
• The top candidate in the 75 district races—those for ‘majoritarian’ seats—must win at least 30 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff
• Unlike the January presidential election, Georgians may not register to vote on the day of the election
• TV and radio broadcasts of election ads were required to stop 24 hours before election day.
• The CEC announces final election results by June 8

How it’s looking so far

In its second interim report, released last week, the OSCE election observer mission said it has received numerous allegations of violations—including widespread intimidation, illegal campaigning by civil servants and abuse of administrative resources—some of which it has substantiated.

It also noted the low level of preparedness at some precinct election commissions and suggested that media coverage of election campaigns favors the ruling party.

A delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, visiting Georgia at the end of April, expressed concern at the low level of public trust in the electoral process.

Government officials have strongly called for clean and democratic elections.

The day after

Leaders of the United Opposition have already called for demonstrations outside the Central Election Commission building at 11 p.m. tonight, when they say they will present the “real” results of the elections.

A large discrepancy between opposition expectations and official results could spur rallies over the next several days. With opposition campaign rhetoric explicitly warning of a revolution, the atmosphere will be tense.

Monday, May 19, 2008

‘Georgian spy’ held in Russia

Russian security forces say they have arrested a Georgian spy with links to North Caucasian militants. Tbilisi denies the claim, which comes amid high tensions and bomb blasts in breakaway South Ossetia.

Moscow officials said on May 16 that Russian citizen Ramzan Turkoshvili, a native of Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, was working as a go-between for Georgian intelligence services and illegal guerilla groups in Chechnya and other regions in the Northern Caucasus.

According to a source in the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), Turkoshvili was also tasked with gathering information about Russian state officials for recruitment purposes, as well as negotiating with Russian traffic police to ensure the safe passage of militants across the Northern Caucasus.

The FSB also claimed Turkoshvili was connected to a terrorist leader now in hiding in the Pankisi area. Russian news agencies report that Turkoshvili confessed. There is no recent information on his location or status.

Georgian officials denied the charges. Shota Utiashvili, a spokesman for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, called the news “disinformation.” “It’s not even serious to comment on the details of this,” Utiashvili told reporters.

Rebel Chechen groups also denied the report. Movladi Udugov, the head of a separatists’ analytical group, said the information was targeted for “Kremlin propaganda consumers,” according to separatist website Kavkaz-Center.

Announced as the top Georgian official for conflict issues held talks in Moscow, the accusations fed smoldering tensions around Georgia’s breakaway regions. [More]