Interim President Nino Burjanadze said the provisional government originally sought to hold the special election on March 7, but pushed the date back several weeks in deference to the views expressed by several political parties, including For a New Georgia, former president Eduard Shevardnadze's powerbase, and pro-business New Rights Party.
Georgia has been in legislative limbo since the results of the November 2 parliamentary election were declared invalid. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Popular protests sparked by the November election irregularities ultimately forced Shevardnadze's resignation.
Voters will cast ballots on March 28 under the proportional representation formula, in which political parties gain seats in parliament according to the share of the vote they receive. The results of first-past-the-post contests held on November 2 will stand.
The electoral schedule diminishes the ability of smaller political parties to gain the necessary 7 percent of the vote to win seats in parliament, some interim government opponents maintain. "Unfortunately, they [arguments for putting the vote off until later in the spring] were not taken into account, and I think this is a serious political mistake," Pikria Chikhradze, a New Rights Party leader, told Rustavi-2 television on January 9.
EurasiaNet contributor Giga Chikhladze recently spoke the head of Georgia's Central Election Commission, Zurab Chiaberashvili, about the organizational tasks surrounding the parliamentary election. The CEC has been lauded for its handling of the January 4 presidential vote, which was viewed as largely free of large-scale electoral abuses. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Chiaberashvili, who became the CEC chairman in December, expects the parliamentary election to present greater logistical challenges than the presidential vote, in large part because it will be more competitive. In the presidential vote, Saakashvili did not face significant competition and, accordingly, won with an overwhelming majority.
While pro-Saakashvili forces are expected to do well in the parliament vote, other parties, including For a New Georgia, New Rights and the Labor Party, will be scrambling to overcome the 7 percent barrier. With so much at stake, Chiaberashvili indicated that partisan politics could give rise to the attempted manipulation of ballot results. The text of Chiaberashvili's comments follow:
EurasiaNet: There was a large-scale media campaign preceding the January 4 presidential elections. Why wasn't there anything like that before the November 2 parliamentary elections? [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Chiaberashvili: As for the previous CEC governing body, they apparently had no clear vision of what to do, and how to do it. I can say the same thing concerning technical and financial assistance. I met [recently] with OSCE representatives and they asked me about what they could do to help prepare for the parliamentary elections. It seems that [international] technical and financial assistance was used improperly during the November 2 parliamentary elections.
EurasiaNet: Therefore, the CEC will have no shortage of financial and technical resources during the forthcoming parliamentary elections? Chiaberashvili: Yes, we shall be provided with all necessary technical and financial help.
EurasiaNet: The presidential elections featured a heavy turnout. How many Georgians voted on January 4? Chiaberashvili: On January 3, there were 1.74 million registered voters. ... On January 4, 390,000 citizens voted with the help of additional voters lists. As a result we now have 2.13 million registered voters. Not all previously registered voters cast ballots [on January 4]. There about 1.76 million votes cast. Therefore, voter turnout amounted to 83 percent of registered voters.
EurasiaNet: What regions experienced the smoothest elections, and what regions experience problems? Chiaberashvili: I think that one of the major achievements was that practically in all regions of Georgia there was a sufficiently high level of conduct during the elections. The only election district that reported numerous violations was in the Marneuli district [of the Kvemo Kartli region]. Thus, the election results from polling stations # 4, 13, and 22 there were declared to be invalid.
EurasiaNet: What kinds of violations occurred? Chiaberashvili: There were cases of so-called family voting, when, say, a husband votes both for himself and his wife. But these cases were rare ... Still, we would like to let everybody know that CEC will respond adequately to any violation.
EurasiaNet: Do you think that the parliamentary elections will be smoother than the presidential vote? Chiaberashvili: I would say there will be even more violations.
EurasiaNet: Why? Chiaberashvili: During the ballot-counting process of the presidential election, commission members and observers had virtually no disputes with each other. When political parties have representatives on an election commission, differences among them can arise, and influence the work of the district and local commissions. This would easily create problems for us [during the parliamentary election]. No doubt, we shall certainly have an election authority formed on the basis of political affiliation. But we have a strong wish to campaign and to try to convince all the parties' representatives to act in the interests of society as a whole, and not in their personal or partisan interests.
Giga Chikhladze is an independent journalist based in Tbilisi.