07TBILISI3148, GEORGIA: PRE-ELECTION TRIP TO AKHALKALAKI,

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07TBILISI3148 2007-12-21 10:50 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO7725
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHSI #3148/01 3551050
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 211050Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8497
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 003148 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA:  PRE-ELECTION TRIP TO AKHALKALAKI, 
JAVAKHETI REGION 
 
 1.  (SBU)  Summary: Poloff visited the Armenian minority 
region of Akhalkalaki in Javakheti December 18-19 to gauge 
the pre-election mood of the political parties, NGOs, press 
and general populace in the lead-up to the January 5 snap 
Presidential elections.  This impoverished region 
traditionally gives strong support to incumbent parties and 
this election is no exception.  There are fewer outward signs 
of campaigning here, especially by the opposition, than in 
other regions.  To date, none of the candidates have visited 
Akhalkalaki. The opposition claims support for Saakashvili is 
driven by fear of reprisals for opposing him, and by the 
ruling party's inappropriate use of administrative resources. 
 Saakashvili's supporters point instead to his 
accomplishments in the last four years, especially in 
improving the region's infrastructure.  End Summary. 
 
 
----------------------------- 
The United National Movement 
----------------------------- 
 
2. (SBU)  The UNM representative Hamlet Movsesyan listed the 
improvements in the Akhalkalaki region under Saakashvili's 
government:  construction of a 70 kilometer new road from 
Akhaltsikhe to Akhalkalaki; the Millennium Challenge Project 
of building a road from Akhalkalaki through Tsalka to 
Tbilisi; refurbishment of new schools; opening of a new 
vocational school; construction of a natural gas pipeline 
which will bring gas to all sectors of the city over the next 
three years; and regular electricity and payment of salaries 
to government employees. Movsesyan said locals are personally 
affected by the bad relationship between Georgia and Russia 
as many have relatives in Russia and can no longer visit 
there due to the visa regime now in place.  With regards to 
NATO, he said that generally residents are negative about 
NATO membership as they have little information about the 
organization.  He discounted that there would be confusion on 
Election Day about where residents should vote as a result of 
the increase in the number of Precinct Election Commissions 
(PEC), saying the location of the precincts was widely 
broadcast on the local television channel.  He commented that 
Opposition candidates were not actively working in the region 
and as a result the population is not aware of their 
platforms. 
 
-------------------- 
Akhalkalaki Governor 
-------------------- 
 
3.  (SBU)  Artur Yeremenyan, Akhalkalaki District Governor, 
focused on the accomplishments of the Saakashvili 
administration in the region, highlighting many of the same 
points as Movsesyan.  He said that the vouchers for 
fire-wood, flour and some packages of food-stuffs as well as 
New Year's greeting letters from the Acting President are 
being distributed by Saakashvili's headquarters, even though 
Tbilisi sends them to the local administration.  Yeremenyan 
said problems still remain in Akhalkalaki, but the local 
government is moving forward through strong cooperation with 
NGOs, shifting the emphasis from humanitarian efforts to 
development.  He was uncertain whether election-related 
materials would be translated into Armenian.  Yeremenyan 
stressed the issue of bad relations with Russia could be 
effectively used by Saakashvili's opponents for "Black PR." 
 
------------- 
New Rightists 
------------- 
 
4.  (SBU)  New Rightists representative Armen Farmanian, and 
Giorgi Nikolaishvili told Poloffs that their candidate has 
not yet been to Akhalkalaki, but plans on making an 
appearance on December 21.  They said that they had been 
unable to use the Cultural Center as a venue as they were 
told by the local government that the structure was under 
repair.    The New Rights representatives focused on the 
negative aspects of life in Akhalkalaki:  unemployment due to 
the closure of the Russian base; the fear that NATO would 
station Turkish troops at the former Russian military site; 
intimidation by local authorities as to the consequences of 
not voting for Saakashvili; and voters being asked to give up 
their IDs to local authorities.  Both were convinced that 
these IDs would be used in some capacity to falsify votes, 
but they could not explain how.  Farmanian noted that one of 
the newly created PECs would be located in a private 
building, and the owner was very much against it. 
 
------------------------- 
United Opposition Council 
------------------------- 
 
TBILISI 00003148  002 OF 002 
 
 
 
5.  (SBU)  United Opposition Council representative Otar 
Iagurashvili, Republican party, and Giorgi Elibegov, Freedom 
party,  told Poloffs that they were having no success in 
reaching the local electorate as they were being watched by 
the local police and residents were afraid to approach them. 
They had noted the plate numbers and passed them to David 
Usupashvili.  Both relayed to Poloff that the local council 
was slow to answer their requests for where they were allowed 
to hang their election placards and banners.  They echo
ed the 
comments of the New Rightist party representatives in that 
they too were told by local officials that the Cultural 
Center was not available as a venue due to repairs (ref para 
4).  Both representatives had traveled to meet Poloff that 
very day from Tbilisi and it did not seem that they had 
dedicated office space and an organized plan.  Elibegov 
stressed the importance of permitting voters to vote on the 
day of elections.  He was deeply concerned that voter's lists 
were inaccurate and if someone's name was not on the list, he 
would not be permitted to vote. 
 
------------------------ 
European Center for NGOs 
------------------------ 
 
6. (SBU)   Poloffs met with local NGOS representatives at the 
European Center for NGOs.  Most of the discussion centered 
around regional issues, not the Presidential election.  All 
NGOs shared complaints about lack of employment, lack of 
status of the Armenian language as a regional administrative 
language, lack of local government autonomy from the center, 
and construction by the federal government of a prison near 
Ninotsminda which they  allege was not coordinated with the 
local government prior to construction. Their concern was 
that Georgians, ostensibly family members of the prisoners, 
would move to the region, thereby changing the demographics. 
With regards to the elections, most all said that locals 
cannot take part in the local political process.  If they 
would support the opposition it would bring them personal 
misfortune, as it would be certain, in their eyes, to bring 
disfavor from the local authorities who would treat them like 
traitors.  One NGO spokesman said, "None of us here 
participated in the protests in Tbilisi, because we knew that 
this would cause us nothing but problems.  As  a minority in 
Georgia we have enough problems."   One in the group alleged 
that local authorities advised him not to attend the 
roundtable. 
 
---------------- 
Press Roundtable 
---------------- 
 
7.  (SBU)  Press representatives told Poloff that they were 
frustrated with the lack of information that was available in 
Russian or Armenian about the candidates' platforms.  None of 
the candidates had visited the city, and as far as they knew, 
none of them were addressing minority issues. Some of them 
expressed concern that voters were being intimidated, and had 
little faith in reporting it to the authorities. 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
8.  (SBU)  Traditionally, minorities in the region have voted 
for the ruling party.  In the past the majority of them have 
voted for Gamsakhurdia, Shevardnadze, and Saakashvili. 
Although sentiments run high in the region as to the 
importance of their language and need for self-autonomy, when 
it comes to the polls they typically vote the party line. 
None of the opposition candidates have addressed minorities 
concerns in their platforms, which could either indicate that 
they are not of importance to them as potential voters, or 
more likely that their campaign energies may yield better 
fruit elsewhere given the region's typical voting record. 
TEFFT

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