07TBILISI3178, GEORGIAN ELECTIONS: CAMPAIGNS SPAR OVER PROCESS IN

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07TBILISI3178 2007-12-28 12:56 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO1147
OO RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #3178/01 3621256
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 281256Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8541
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 003178 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR DAS BRYZA & EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/27/2017 
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIAN ELECTIONS: CAMPAIGNS SPAR OVER PROCESS IN 
KUTAISI 
 
Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft for reasons 1.4(b&d). 
 
Comment 
------- 
1. (C) During a December 19-20 pre-election visit to Kutaisi, 
Georgia's second largest city, we found opposition campaigns 
focused almost exclusively on alleged government plans to 
intimidate voters or to manipulate the results.  Some of the 
charges contained credible-sounding details, especially those 
suggesting that activists for the ruling party had warned 
opposition supporters that they could face problems with 
their jobs or businesses.  Many of the charges, however, 
seemed less credible, either because they were unspecific, 
seemed unlikely to effect the results even if true, or 
concerned things that had not yet happened, i.e., abuses that 
the opposition suspected the government was planning to 
commit.  When the opposition did turn to the issues, it 
tended to favor process-oriented ones.  For example, a local 
campaign official for Levan Gachechiladze said his candidate 
was winning support because of his call to abolish the 
position of elected president, adding that Gachechiladze was 
intentionally not emphasizing economic issues.  Ruling party 
and government officials were more focused on promoting their 
record in improving Kutaisi's infrastructure, and their 
ambitious plans to develop Kutaisi as a tourism and 
conference center.  We stressed to all parties that the 
government has a responsibility to ensure a free and fair 
election and, if international observers certify that this 
has happened, the losing parties have a responsibility to 
accept the results.  All parties agreed in principle, but at 
the same time all seemed more focused on criticizing their 
opponents than on reining in their own supporters.  End 
Summary. 
 
Charges Range from Serious... 
----------------------------- 
2. (C) Local representatives of all the major opposition 
candidates -- Gachechiladze, Gamkrelidze, Natelashvili, and 
Patarkatsishvili -- as well as the Georgian Young Lawyers 
Association (GYLA) provided us with a wide array of alleged 
government abuses that they said would, if not stopped 
immediately, make a free and fair election impossible.  Many 
said their campaigns had encountered difficulty renting 
space.  Gamkrelidze's local campaign chief Goga Asatiani said 
he had been unable to get city officials to allow him to rent 
the city's theater for a Gamkrelidze rally, until Gamkrelidze 
raised the issue himself with Acting President Nino 
Burjanadze (who represents a Kutaisi district in Parliament), 
and Burjanadze passed word through the regional governor to 
make the hall available.  Asatiani gave several other 
examples with names included, including one village resident 
who had rented the campaign office space and then lost his 
job with the tax department.  Gachechiladze managed to hold a 
rally in the Kutaisi theater December 19, but one 
Gachechiladze supporter told us the next day that the lights 
had gone out for 20 minutes during the rally -- something he 
was certain was intentional. 
 
3. (C) Asatiani provided names of Gamkrelidze supporters who 
had been harassed for signing petitions, in some cases by 
their own relatives who had themselves allegedly been 
threatened with trouble because of their family ties to 
Gamkrelidze supporters.  Gachechiladze's local campaign 
manager said that someone he knew had forced him to resign 
from a lucrative state job, threatening him with such things 
as trumped-up drug charges or with the arrest of family 
member, after he appeared in a video clip of the opposition 
rally that ended in violence November 9.  We raised such 
reports of intimidation in meetings with a range of local 
officials and the ruling National Movement's campaign.  All 
dismissed the charges as exaggerated.  Imereti Regional 
Governor Akaki Bobokhidze noted that the wife of a leading 
official of the Patarkatsishvili campaign was a member of his 
staff and would remain there.  National Movement campaign 
manager Gocha Tevdoradze said the possibility of such actions 
could be completely "excluded," arguing that the National 
Movement did not need to intimidate voters to win. 
 
...To Curious and Conspiratorial 
-------------------------------- 
4. (C) Other opposition complaints tended to raise more 
questions than answers, for a variety of reasons.  Two 
Gachechiladze campaign officials spoke at length about 
protocols from several recent precinct election commission 
(PEC) meetings in the region that had never been signed as 
required.  They had challenged the protocols in court, 
arguing that they suspected the PEC meetings had never taken 
place.  Asked what advantage the National Movement could gain 
from the unsigned protocols, they could not answer, other 
than to suggest the National Movement could use such 
 
TBILISI 00003178  002 OF 003 
 
 
procedural irregularities as an excuse to invalidate the 
election if it went against them.  (Note: We have elsewhere 
heard a more credible-sounding complaint that some early PEC 
meetings were called without informing opposition members, to &
#x000A;deprive them of a say in the election of PEC officers.)  The 
local head of Natelashvili's campaign, Samson Gugava, said 
the ruling party would know how people on the supplemental 
list -- those whose names were not on the initial rolls -- 
voted, and would decide whether to count their votes 
depending on whether they would help win the election.  These 
theories grant the National Movement a kind of sinister 
omniscience that is not very credible. 
 
5. (C) All the opposition parties complained at length about 
"dead souls" on the voters list.  DEC Chairman Avtandil 
Osepaishvili agreed that there are many more names on the 
list than people residing in Kutaisi.  He explained that the 
families of deceased people often failed to file documents to 
remove the names, many other Georgians are working abroad 
without documenting their absence, and the early elections 
had not given officials enough time to correct the list 
fully.  Several opposition campaigns are spending 
considerable resources going house-to-house to try to check 
the list themselves, and in the process they discovered that 
some registered addresses do not even exist.  None of the 
opposition representatives had specific evidence proving that 
the ruling party would use these extra names for vote fraud, 
although many repeated widespread rumors that local officials 
were printing fraudulent IDs in the names of the "dead 
souls," complete with pictures of National Movement activists 
who would use them to cast multiple votes.  When we noted 
that recent changes to the Election Code putting opposition 
members on the PECs might deter this kind of abuse, some 
opposition representatives acknowledged that this helped, but 
others argued that the government would put so much pressure 
on even opposition PEC members that they would be unwilling 
to object to fraud. 
 
6. (C) All opposition candidates mentioned reports that the 
National Movement had instructed its voters to take a digital 
photo of their marked ballot with a cell phone, in the voting 
booth, so that they could later prove that they had voted for 
Saakashvili.  In order to guarantee that it was in fact their 
ballot in the photo, these voters were reportedly told to 
include a bit of their hand, or a ring, in the shot.  When we 
asked the National Movement's Tevdoradze about these 
allegations, he replied that it would be impossible to find 
enough cell phones for such a large number of voters in 
Kutaisi.  Later, when we conducted an experiment by trying to 
photograph a piece of paper and a hand with a typical 
Georgian cell phone, we found it practically impossible to 
read anything written on the paper in the photo. 
 
7. (C) We spoke with only one person in Kutaisi whose 
analysis of the election contained any degree of 
qualification, balance, or sense that the truth may not be 
all on one side or the other: International Society for Fair 
Election and Democracy (ISFED) Regional Coordinator Teona 
Gogoshvili.  She said there were a few cases ISFED had 
identified as violations, including one in which an 
opposition supporter was pressured to resign as a tax 
inspector, and another in which an opposition member of PEC 
was threatened with business problems if she did not behave 
in a certain way.  Gogoshvili said that when such cases got 
attention, higher-ups in the government often stepped in to 
protect the people who had been pressured, suggesting the 
cases may have been the result of "excessive zeal" by 
lower-ranking government supporters.  Gogoshvili said that 
this is why ISFED is encouraging people to speak up if they 
are pressured, although she acknowledged that many are 
probably afraid to do so.  She said ISFED meets regularly 
with the opposition campaigns, but added that most of their 
concerns are "not well-based or verified." 
 
What About the Issues? 
---------------------- 
8. (C) Governor Bobokhidze predicted that Saakashvili would 
win over 60 percent of the vote in Kutaisi, and 70 percent in 
the outlying villages of the Imereti region.  He said 
Saakashvili was running on a record of achievements, 
including reducing crime by defeating the "thieves-in-law" 
criminal network.  He acknowledged that the government had 
made some mistakes, but expressed confidence that the public 
would not want to go back to the situation of 2003.  (Note: 
Bobokhidze is himself a controversial figure, cited in our 
Human Rights Report for beating a journalist in 2005.) 
National Movement campaign chief Tevdoradze offered a similar 
analysis, saying the government had fulfilled its promises, 
including improving roads and strengthening the army and 
other basic elements of statehood, and was now focusing its 
 
TBILISI 00003178  003 OF 003 
 
 
campaign on the next step: solving social problems. 
Bobokhidze and Kutaisi Mayor Nugzar Shamugia highlighted the 
government's plan to make Kutaisi the next city targeted for 
tourism development, following Sighnaghi, by promoting 
construction of hotels and conference facilities.  Bobokhidze 
said that because of Kutaisi's historical sites, it would be 
well-placed for such development once the government finished 
four-laning the main road from Tbilisi. 
 
9. (C) Gachechiladze's campaign offered a very different 
view, saying Saakashvili's popularity in the region was near 
zero, and his only hope for support was scaring voters. 
Campaign officials said Gachechiladze's support was rising 
because his platform of constitutional reform -- including an 
end the presidency as it is currently known soon after 
Gachechiladze is elected to it -- was resonating with voters 
tired of the "cult of the leader."  A succession of such 
leaders, they said, had brought no progress to Georgia since 
independence.  Asked about Gachechiladze's economic message, 
they said he is not focusing much on economic issues because 
he does not want to give voters "false promises," as 
Saakashvili does. 
 
Comment 
------- 
10. (C) All parties described the election in purely black 
and white terms, but in fact many of the alleged violations 
are most likely the result of the imperfect realities of 
campaigning in a country where a democratic political process 
is still relatively new.  All parties are conducting 
aggressive voter outreach, using door-to-door visits and 
phone calls, in some cases from friends and family members of 
targeted voters.  In addition to canvassing for votes, these 
contacts are often also intended to gauge public opinion and 
to check the accuracy of the voters list.  These efforts may 
be a legitimate part of campaigning (assuming the activists 
are honest about who they represent) but they are no doubt 
unpleasant for many voters, and it is quite likely that many 
instinctively fear that contacts from the ruling party 
contain an implicit threat of trouble if voters oppose them. 
 
11. (C) Public opinion in Kutaisi is hard to gauge.  There 
have been no clearly unbiased polls taken since
the violence 
in November, and the parties' views of public opinion are 
wildly divergent.  Kutaisi has not benefited from economic 
growth to the same extent as Tbilisi and Batumi, and has the 
feel of a city that has yet to recover from the economic 
dislocation at the time of the Soviet collapse.  At the same 
time, the region has earned a reputation for being less 
politically active than Tbilisi and Batumi, despite Kutaisi 
being Georgia's second-largest city, and for dividing its 
votes more or less in line with the country as a whole.  Even 
some opposition leaders told us they did not expect Kutaisi 
voters to play a visible or unusual role on January 5 or 
after. 
TEFFT

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