07TBILISI3166, SAAKASHVILI STRONG IN ZUGDIDI DISTRICT

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07TBILISI3166 2007-12-27 13:06 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO0284
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHSI #3166/01 3611306
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 271306Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8519
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 003166 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
SENSITIVE 
 
STATE FOR EUR/CARC AND EUR/FO 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PREL GG
SUBJECT: SAAKASHVILI STRONG IN ZUGDIDI DISTRICT 
 
 
1. (SBU) Summary: Mikheil Saakashvili is strong in Samegrelo 
and its capital, Zugdidi, the home of many displaced persons 
from the conflict in Abkhazia.  His National Movement is 
well-organized, well-funded and has many campaign volunteers. 
 As a result, he is likely to gather a majority of the 
district's voters, of whom 76,000 are expected to go to the 
polls.  By contrast, the opposition seems focused on 
complaints about the voters' list and harassment by police 
and/or National Movement supporters.  However, despite their 
insistence about the unfairness of "dead souls" on the voters 
list, they do not explain clearly how such names would be 
translated into votes in the ballot box.  They are far less 
active in seeking votes door to door than Saakashvili's 
supporters.  They have not sought the free time available to 
them on the local TV station.  While Embassy officers were in 
Zugdidi, Saakashvili was able to turn many local citizens out 
for a concert held in a driving rain.  End Summary. 
 
2. (SBU) Zugdidi is the largest city in Samegrelo/Zemo 
Svaneti region and an important agricultural services center 
for Western Georgia.  It is also the home of a majority of 
the displaced persons from the conflict in Abkhazia.  On 
December 17-18, Econoff and two Embassy LES employees visited 
the city to learn more about the status of the Georgian 
presidential campaign.  They learned that Saakashvili 
demonstrates substantial strength in the district, which has 
about 120,000 voters in the city and surrounding villages, 
divided into 104 precincts/polling places.  The opposition in 
Zugdidi seems poorly organized and more focused on complaints 
about the voters' list, access to media, and alleged 
intimidation by police and Saakashvili supporters than on 
"retail politics" and getting out the vote.  By contrast, the 
Saakashvili campaign is well-organized, with a top layer of 
Tbilisi-based campaign directors and paid workers, who 
supervise numerous volunteers.  According to the Zugdidi 
National Movement campaign chairman, Lasha Damenia, there is 
one volunteer for every 100 voters in the district.  These 
volunteers actively encourage their assigned group to vote 
for Saakashvili.  Posters for Saakashvili are everywhere, 
even plastered on a Coca-Cola delivery truck.  Nothing 
similar for the other candidates was visible away from their 
campaign headquarters. 
 
THE GAMGEBELI 
------------- 
 
3. (SBU) On November 17, we met with Aleksander Kobalia, 
Gamgebeli (governor) of Zugdidi district, and a member of 
Saakashvili's National Movement.  Kobalia said that National 
Movement polls are showing Saakashvili with 82 percent 
support in the Zugdidi district.  He attributes the high 
level of support to the Saakashvili government's success in 
bringing 24 hour electricity supply and resurfacing of roads 
to the region.  It is likely also a result of the Saakashvili 
administration's strong support to the IDP population which 
lives here and also in the Gali district of Abkhazia. 
Kobalia's father is an influential businessman in Zugdidi and 
owner of the local television station, Odishi.  The 
opposition points to this fact as support for its allegations 
that it cannot get time on the station. 
 
THE DISTRICT ELECTION COMMISSION CHAIR 
-------------------------------------- 
 
4. (SBU) We also met with Nana Okujava, Chair of the Zugdidi 
District Election Commission.  She said she was engaged in 
making corrections to the voters' list, which has been a key 
complaint by the opposition in the district.  However, she 
said that she had had no face to face discussions with 
opposition representatives since the elections were 
announced.  Okujava agreed with Kobalia that Saakashvili's 
strength derives from infrastructure improvements.  However, 
she added that many Zugdidi residents believe that 
Saakashvili is the only hope for solving the problem of 
reintegration of Abkhazia into Georgia.  Zugdidi was the site 
of a protest organized by the opposition prior to the major 
demonstration on November 2.  Okujava said that more people 
came from Tbilisi to participate in the Zugdidi demonstration 
than from Zugdidi itself.  A special problem in Zugdidi is 
registering and accounting for Internally Displaced Persons 
(IDPs) from Abkhazia.  Many of these people live in Gali, in 
Abkhazia, and come to Zugdidi to vote.  Estimates of their 
number we heard in Zugdidi ranged from 33,000 to 54,000. 
 
GAMKRELIDZE'S SUPPORTERS 
------------------------ 
 
5. (SBU) Bachuki Kardava is the chair of the National 
Democratic Party, and lives in Tbilisi.  His party is allied 
with Davit Gamkrelidze's New Rights party.  Kardava is 
 
TBILISI 00003166  002 OF 003 
 
 
heading the Gamkrelidze campaign out of a comfortable house 
in Zugdidi.  He said that the New Rightists believe they can 
pick up a significant number of votes in Samegrelo. 
Gamkrelidze plans to visit Zugdidi soon.  Kardava accused the 
local government of dominating the political process in 
Zugdidi an
d intimidating voters, making it hard to find 
people to campaign for the opposition.  In particular, he 
complained that he had recruited people to represent New 
Rights on Precinct Election Commissions, but that they had 
quit after feeling pressured by the National Movement.  He 
added that he will submit his list of pollwatchers as late as 
possible to ensure they do not receive undue attention from 
the authorities.  Kardava sounded a recurring theme by 
claiming that there are lots of "dead souls" on the voters' 
list.  Because the election was called on short notice, there 
was little time to improve the list, he said.  On the other 
hand, he said his campaign headquarters had not been 
subjected to harassment and he had no problem with getting 
the media to cover his campaign events.  He has talked on the 
telephone with Okujava at the DEC.  Like his candidate 
Gamkrelidze, Kardava suspects the other opposition parties 
are (wrongly) preparing themselves more for January 6, the 
day after the election, than for the January 5 election 
itself.  Kardava said that he will be vigilant at the polls 
to prevent falsification of the vote protocols and to watch 
for evidence of "carousel voting".  Any result that gives 
Saakashvili more than 70 percent of the vote will be 
fraudulent, he added. 
 
GACHECHILADZE'S SUPPORTERS 
-------------------------- 
 
6. (SBU) We then met with the United Council of the 
Opposition, whose candidate is Levan Gachechiladze, the 
regional coordinator for the Tavesupleba (Freedom) Party was 
Tengiz Gergedava, from Tbilisi.  About seven or eight other 
local party workers participated in the meeting.  Gergedava 
said that one major reason for disenchantment with 
Saakashvili is politicization of the military and police, and 
the lack of checks and balances on police power.  One of the 
party workers complained specifically about being arrested 
"for no reason" in 2005.  Other complaints focused on the 
period before the November 2 Tbilisi demonstrations, with 
participants in the October Zugdidi rally allegedly receiving 
anonymous telephone threats.  Light punishments of National 
Movement supporters who tried to break up the rally received 
criticism.  Regarding the election campaign, the party 
workers said that they cannot rent space on billboards 
because the billboard owners are afraid.  Saakashvili posters 
are ubiquitous now in Zugdidi.  They also complained about 
two instances of police contacts with opposition supporters 
that engendered fear.  A worker from Poti was especially 
bitter, saying that the police there are controlling and 
monitoring people who visit the party office, and that the 
party flag was knocked off the roof of the building.  (Note: 
at no time did we notice any police presence anywhere near 
the party offices we visited in Zugdidi.)  Gergedava was 
concerned about the voters' list, as was Kardava. He also 
alleged that in Zugdidi, the National Movement is putting 
people on the Precinct Election Commissions who are 
pretending to be New Rights or Labor representatives. 
 
7. (SBU) Asked what they are doing to campaign, the workers 
said that people do go door to door to seek votes, and they 
hold meetings to which supporters can come.  Gachechiladze is 
getting his fair share of free television and radio time on 
national TV and radio, they said.  However, they have not 
requested any free time on the local TV station, Odishi, 
because they believe any such request is useless, given that 
it is controlled by the Governor and his family.  They have 
requested and received time on local radio.  Gachechiladze is 
coming to Zugdidi on December 26, they said.  The Poti 
representative claimed that 4000 people saw Gachechiladze 
when he came to Poti on December 9, but the event was ignored 
by the national media. 
 
8. (SBU) Gergedava was cagey about the opposition's plans for 
after the elections.  He claimed that it is Saakashvili who 
is making up the idea that the opposition will not accept the 
results of the polls and will return to the streets. 
However, he feels that the elections are being subverted in 
the pre-election period and the international election 
monitors are focused on election day.  The opposition will 
review the reports by the election monitors "with care", he 
said. 
 
LOCAL TELEVISION 
---------------- 
 
9. (SBU) Gocha Minjoria, the director of the local Odishi TV 
 
TBILISI 00003166  003 OF 003 
 
 
station, told us that the opposition parties prefer to spend 
their money on national TV stations rather than on local TV. 
Only the National Movement is spending money on local 
advertising, he said.  Therefore the National Movement is not 
using its free time on the station.  Moreover, he said, the 
opposition parties have not claimed the free time to which 
they are entitled.  They have called regarding how to get 
time, but have not followed up.  The station has 8 
journalists who are covering all the parties equally, he 
said.  The station has a grant to hold a debate on December 
28 and is inviting the local representatives of the 
candidates to participate. 
 
SAAKASHVILI'S SUPPORTERS 
------------------------ 
 
10. (SBU) The weather in Zugdidi on December 17 was cold and 
steadily raining.  Nevertheless, many people turned out for a 
concert in support of Saakashvili.  Saakashvili's Dutch-born 
wife, Sandra Roloefs, won praise for her singing of a 
traditional Mingrelian folk song, watched over by a beaming 
Saakashvili.  Even though the onlookers were bussed in by the 
National Movement from surrounding villages, the turnout was 
impressive given the weather, which was truly atrocious.  On 
December 18, the National Movement coordinator, Lasha 
Damenia, told us that 8000 people had come to the concert. 
The town was certainly jammed with traffic the evening of the 
concert, even if that figure was exaggerated, as is often the 
case in Georgia.  Damenia stressed that the opposition 
parties are very inactive.  The National Movement, he said, 
tries to focus on local problems people may be having, 
responding to letters complaining about such things as 
unpaved streets.  He showed us the letter Saakashvili has 
sent to senior citizens promising to raise pensions if he is 
elected.  Saakashvili has visited Zugdidi three times since 
the election was announced, and will visit two more times 
before January 5.  No opposition candidate has yet appeared 
personally in Zugdidi. 
 
11. (SBU) Damenia responded to concerns about the voter 
lists.  While the United Opposition claimed that 30,000 of 
the 120,000 names on the list are erroneous, Damenia 
estimated that it is really no more than 2000 or so.  He 
dismissed the idea of carousel voting as very difficult, 
given the presence of TV cameras in the polling places 
focused on the ballot box and registration table, as well as 
other safeguards.  Although he knows what "carousel voting" 
is, he said it is as a practical matter all but impossible to &#x0
00A;organize effectively.  He estimates that of the 120,000 or so 
registered voters, 76,000 will vote on January 5 in Zugdidi, 
and of those, 56,000 will vote for Saakashvili.  He bases his 
estimates on the very active work of the National Movement 
volunteers.  These campaigners visit each of the 100 voters 
they are responsible for and determine their preferences. 
For those voters who lean to candidates other than 
Saakashvili, he said, the volunteers try to find relatives or 
respected friends who support Saakashvili and will try to 
persuade them to change their votes. 
 
NATELASHVILI AND PATARKATSISHVILI 
--------------------------------- 
 
12. (SBU) We found Shalva Natelashvili's Labor Party 
headquarters in the city center, but its entrance was quite 
hard to find and there was only a caretaker present who could 
tell us nothing about his campaign in Zugdidi.  We saw 
nothing of Badri Patarkatshishvili's campaign, although we 
heard from several people who told us he was paying 200 lari 
to individuals to work the polls for him. 
TEFFT

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