08TBILISI41, A DAY AT THE POLLS IN GEORGIA

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI41 2008-01-11 13:43 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO9865
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHSI #0041/01 0111343
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 111343Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8595
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 000041 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM GG
SUBJECT: A DAY AT THE POLLS IN GEORGIA 
 
 
Introduction 
------------ 
1. (U) Twenty teams of U.S. Embassy observers spread out across 
Georgia on January 5 to observe the presidential election from the 
opening of polls to the completion of the count late into the night. 
 In addition to providing material for our reports on the conduct 
and the results of the election, this gave Embassy officers from a 
variety of sections and agencies an opportunity to see Georgian 
civic life up close, often in remote or overlooked areas.  As a 
supplement to our other reporting on the election, the Embassy 
offers in this cable a collection of some of the interesting 
incidents and people we encountered.  While the details are 
particular to one time and place, taken together they provide some 
context on contemporary Georgian life and politics.  End 
Introduction. 
 
Team 1: Tbilisi 
--------------- 
2. (SBU) To observe closing of the polls and ballot counting, Team 1 
decided to re-visit the precinct that appeared to us to be the most 
disorganized earlier in the day.  At 7:30 pm we returned to the 
"Opizari Joint Stock Company" building in a working class 
neighborhood of Tbilisi.  We arrived just in time to see an elderly 
woman, probably in her 70's, attempt to vote by way of the 
additional list but she was turned away for not having proper ID. 
The woman protested that she was an IDP (internally displaced 
person) from Abkhazia and thus could not register through her 
residence.  The unsympathetic election commission secretary said 
that she needed to provide proof of her IDP status.  The woman left 
quietly, but returned triumphant, panting from rushing up the 
stairs, with her IDP card in hand.  She dropped her red envelope 
into the ballot box just beating the clock at 8:00 pm and was 
rewarded with 2 thumbs up by our team. 
 
3. (SBU) In the unheated, smoke-filled room, the ballot counting 
commenced shortly after closing at 8:00 pm in below-freezing 
temperatures.  A frail gray-haired woman in an enormous fur coat 
carefully opened each ballot and announced the contents, proceeding 
excruciatingly slowly until the last envelope was opened at 3:00 am. 
 At that point, several incomplete ballots had to be considered by 
the precinct commission.  The commission was split along party lines 
and accusations of partisanship were flying.  Six or so 
commissioners engaged in an hour-long shouting match over whether to 
count one ballot which was signed next to Saakashvili's name, rather 
than circled.  When the shouting reached fever pitch, the police 
officer stationed outside entered the room and approached our team. 
He had a worried look on his face and said to our interpreter, 
"shouldn't you intervene?"  After we asked the Chair about the 
essence of the argument, the shouting stopped, the room became 
silent, and a ballot was thrust in front of us for decision.  When 
we explained that it was not our place to interpret ballots, the 
commissioners rolled their eyes and the arguing ensued unabated. 
 
Team 6: Tbilisi 
--------------- 
4. (SBU) In a polling station in Isani (Avlabari) located in an old 
Vodka factory, voters queued outside the building in the freezing 
cold.  The polling station was in the lobby of the factory and there 
was no space inside for voters to wait.  But, the temperature inside 
was no warmer than on the street.  Team 6 was at the polling station 
when several visually impaired people from a near-by home for the 
blind came to vote.  The people in line made way for the blind 
voters, many of them elderly, and helped them up the crowded, broken 
stairs and into the station.  People continued to make way while 
they held onto each other and helped them to the registration desk, 
to the voting booths and then to the ballot box. 
 
Team 16: Svaneti Region 
----------------------- 
5. (SBU) Team 16 arrived in this remote mountain region after a 
harrowing six-hour drive through snowy mountain passes, creeping 
along barely passable roads.  To observe the closing of the polls 
and vote counting, Team 16 returned to one of Mestia's two main 
precincts.  Shortly after the team members sat down, they were 
joined by a local English-speaking middle-aged lady who claimed to 
be an OSCE observer.  (Other locals later told us that she was not 
actually associated with the OSCE.)  This lady made a point of 
extolling the virtues of Georgia's various alcoholic drinks, 
particularly Svaneti's brand of cha-cha -- a drink that precinct 
workers had already forced on the observers in an earlier visit to 
the polling station.  After chatting with Team 16's sole unmarried 
male for a few moments, the lady walked out of the room and quickly 
returned with her young adult daughter, whom she enthusiastically 
offered to him as a wife.  The embarrassed observer hemmed and hawed 
for a moment, before the (equally embarrassed) daughter 
disappeared. 
 
6. (SBU) After the votes were counted and the protocol signed at 
approximately 12:30 am, Team 16 returned to its guesthouse to find 
the owner's nephew awake by the fireplace.  The nephew e
xplained 
that he had been waiting for the team to return safely, and that if 
they had not returned by 2:00 am, he would have gone out into the 
 
TBILISI 00000041  002 OF 002 
 
 
night to look for them and bring them back to the guesthouse.  This 
gracious, typically Georgian concern for guests was further 
demonstrated by the guesthouse owner's comment that Mestia's police 
made a point of patrolling her street whenever she had foreign 
guests, to ensure their safety and well-being. 
 
TEFFT

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