By Artyom Kobzev
Parliamentary elections have begun in Georgia. Both the government and the opposition deem them important for the country’s future. According to President Mikheil Saakashvili, the results of the voting will demonstrate whether Georgia is moving forward or falling back into the past. Saakashvili’s opponents fear that the authorities will try to falsify the election outcome.
Polling stations opened at 8 am local time. The voting day was declared a day off so that nothing could prevent voters from casting their ballots. The struggle for parliamentary seats has assumed serious proportions. In accordance with amendments to the country’s Constitution, the Georgian parliament will gain more power in 2013. Besides, President Saakashvili is going to continue to rule the country as prime minister after his second term is over. To this end, he needs an agreeable parliament. It’s no wonder then that Georgians are demonstrating increased interest in the vote. There are queues in front of some polling stations in Tbilisi. No incidents have been reported so far, Alexander Rondeli of the Georgian Strategic and International Research Foundation, comments.
“There could be provocations at some polling stations. I think today is going to be quiet, while tomorrow and the day after tomorrow are going to be much ‘hotter’ because each party, particularly the opposition, expects good results and will protest if the outcome turns out to be lower than expected.”
Mikheil Saakashvili, his wife and younger son arrived at the polling station early in the morning. As he addressed reporters gathered at the station, the Georgian president said he had no doubts that Georgians were wise enough to make the right choice. Mr.Saakashvili’s billionaire challenger Bidzina Ivanishvili arrived at his polling station accompanied by his wife but abstained from casting his ballot. He said he still found it unacceptable, even though the lawmakers had passed a bill allowing Georgians who have EU citizenship to take part in the elections. Bidzina Ivanishvili, who had been deprived of Georgian citizenship, decided not to exercise his right to vote on principle. Meanwhile, observers fear that the voting could veer off course as reports say the authorities are planning to stuff ballot boxes with sham bulletins. Gulbaat Rtskhiladze of the Institute of Eurasia, comments.
“We’ve been informed that a large number of false bulletins have been prepared for being put in ballot boxes. These bulletins are kept in cars, or vans parked outside polling stations.”
A smear war unleashed by the opposition and the government several days before the voting contributed to the already tough election campaign. The smear war erupted following footages of torture in a Tbilisi prison which were broadcast by two independent TV channels and triggered a wave of mass protests. Two ministers had to submit their resignations in connection with the footages and a number of people were arrested. Experts say that if Saakashvili’s loses the vote, it’ll largely be due to the prison torture scandal.