With two weeks to go before Georgia's parliamentary elections, there are growing signs that opposition groups have lost confidence in the international community's ability to encourage a free-and-fair vote.
In reports issued last week, the Washington, DC-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) noted the low public confidence in the election process. They also highlighted the high level of political tension in the country, and shed light on widespread problems with the voter list and a lack of trust in the Central Election Commission (CEC).
While both reports in addition to an earlier report by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe included criticism of President Mikheil Saakashvili's administration, as well as of the governing United National Movement for a Victorious Georgia, many opposition leaders have dismissed the documents as ineffectual. According to Zurab Tkemaladze, a member of parliament for the opposition Industrialists bloc, international observers lack any real influence over the election process. Without such influence, he argued, the observers cannot help Georgia's elections improve. "Unfortunately, international observers are a little too passive," Tkemaladze told EurasiaNet. "They should be more assertive and be more involved in the whole process. They should have some influence."
Other opposition leaders agree. Davit Usupashvili, leader of the Republican Party, points to the lack of any "noise" from the missions after allegations that the United National Movement had missed the 6pm deadline for filing party lists with the Central Election Commission on April 21. Election officials reportedly refused to show the ruling party's list to opposition parties and election observers until the early hours of April 22.
While international observers made note of the problems seeing the list, CEC Chairman Levan Tarkhnishvili was not reprimanded.
Prior to the January presidential elections, both the government and opposition had high expectations that international observers would serve as an accurate gauge of the vote's fairness. President Saakashvili invited the OSCE to send "thousands" of monitors to observe the vote. Initially, observers had praised the vote as "the first genuinely competitive election" in the country's history. But several days after the vote count was completed, ODIHR issue a report calling counting procedures "bad" in several precincts. [For details, see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Opposition leaders claim the final results were falsified.
That delayed response sparked general disappointment among the opposition, Usupashvili noted. "It is true that, in general, Georgian society is quite disappointed with the performance of the international observers during the [January 5 presidential] elections," he claimed. "I don't think it is possible to [increase confidence in the international observers] now, two weeks before the elections."
Some opposition parties are attempting to act in an election monitoring capacity. On May 5, for example, the United Opposition Movement released an audio recording of a conversation in which a ruling party candidate allegedly threatened local government officials with dismissal if they did not ensure a sufficiently high turnout for Saakashvili's United National Movement. Although the party denies any wrongdoing, the candidate, Valeri Giorgobiani, has since withdrawn from the race.
International observers do not see themselves as having a broad mandate covering the electoral process. Even so, they insist that both government and opposition will be held responsible for a free and fair election. "In a political process
Molly Corso is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.