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5 Jan, 2008 22:47

Georgia: Saakashvili winning the election?

Georgian TV is showing exit poll figures that suggest former President Mikhail Saakashvili has gained more than 53.8 per cent of votes. If so, it will be enough for him to remain in office.

Opposition candidate Levan Gachechiladze, who's representing nine parties, received over 28 per cent, while businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili got a little over 6 per cent of the vote.

According to official figures the turnout at the election was around 56 per cent. The Election Commission claims the election was free and fair.

The counting of votes has started, but the full official results of the election will not be known for several days.

The snap vote was called by former President Saakashvili after he suppressed opposition protests in November.

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian-based election monitoring organisation, Common European Affair, says none of the presidential candidates has gained more than 50 per cent of the vote needed for an outright victory.

Its exit poll places opposition candidate Levan Gachechiladze first with 31 per cent.

Mikhail Saakashvili is behind with around 24 percent and Badri Patarkatsishvili has about 20 per cent.

Saakashvili celebrates

In jubilant mood Saakashvili appeared confident of outright victory. At a celebratory pop concert he told his supporters that they've made the right choice for the future of Georgia.
“All the results of the exit polls announced in the mass media confirm our victory in the first round of the election, but as we are a democratic party we should wait for the official results from the Central Election Commission. I want to reach out to those who voted for us and thank those who didn’t but attended the election. Our victory will be a united victory,” he said.

“This election has become the most free in Georgia's history and we have seen democracy win in our country. I want everybody to know that we will do everything for our country to prosper. I plan to work hard and we have a great task ahead of us but we will achieve what we aim at,” Mikhail Saakashvili added.
At 9 pm local time the first exit polls were released giving Saakashvili a wide lead over his opponents. His campaign headquarters immediately erupted into celebrations.
“What we have for this moment, including this exit poll data, gives us solid ground to believe that Mikhail Saakashvili will become the President of Georgia for his second term,” said David Bakradze, Saakashvilli’s Campaign Staff member.

Fairness concerns

Georgia's opposition accuses Saakashvili's ruling party of attempting to rig the vote and is calling for a mass rally on Sunday.

“According to our information today we have won in almost every part of the country. And according to the information we received from our commissions, there is a terror campaign going on during the counting process. There is a falsified exit poll, which is being broadcast on three nationwide channels,”  claimed United Georgia’s opposition candidate," Levan Gachechiladze. 

“I was planning my first statement today on Georgian media to address our voters, but I was blocked by these three governmental channels, which means that the media terror has started against us,” he added.

The Georgian opposition also speaks about a lot of violations during the voting process.

Voters were marked with invisible ink designed to prevent them from attempting to cast their vote twice. Gachechiladze’s spokesperson Tina Khidasheli claimed that some of the serious violations the opposition has noted were connected with this equipment.

“In almost 15 per cent of the polling stations, marking equipment has been destroyed and people have been denied entrance to the stations to cast their votes. And at the same time multiple voting is being carried out by activists from Saakashvili's National Movement,” she said.

Candidate and former president Mikhail Saakashvili said that all allegations of violations have to be taken into consideration regardless of whether they come from his party or from the opposition.

However, he responded to one of the opposition’s claims of violations. He said that his party’s supporters using buses to get voters to the polling stations is not illegal. Saakashvili noted that this is just for convenience, especially considering today’s bad weather in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi, which is covered with snow.

The country's government had given assurances the vote would be free and fair, despite fraud allegations from the opposition. More than a thousand international observers as well as two thousand local ones have been monitoring today’s election. They have been present at every polling station.

Preliminary monitoring by the OSCE and local observers hinted at some problems in the campaign, including attempts to bribe voters. However, there were no serious violations, according to them.

The Chairman of the Central Election Commission, Levan Tarkhnishvili, said no serious violations have been detected. The OSCE will give a news conference tomorrow and announce whether any serious violations have been uncovered.

New election in spring

In a referendum held in parallel with the presidential election, Georgians voted to hold the next parliamentary elections this spring.

The rescheduling of the parliamentary election to April was one of the opposition's main demands.