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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI528 2008-03-28 12:57 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

DE RUEHSI #0528/01 0881257
P 281257Z MAR 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 000528 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/28/2018 
     B. TBILISI 509 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Mark X. Perry; 
reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d). 
1. (C) Summary: On March 25, after 16 days, the United 
National Council of Opposition (UNC) and the New Rightists 
(NR) party ended their hunger strike.  They said they could 
not ignore a second appeal to stop by the Patriarch of the 
Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, after he visited them at 
Parliament.  One opposition leader was hospitalized earlier 
in the day.  Now, it appears that the opposition is turning 
to the campaign for the May 21 parliamentary elections. 
March 26 marked the last day for political parties to 
register with the Central Election Commission (CEC).  Also on 
March 26, Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze briefed NATO 
ambassadors on GOG steps to prepare for the election. 
Burjanadze underscored GOG commitment to free and fair 
elections.  On March 26, Poloff attended an informal meeting 
of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Free and Fair Elections. 
End summary. 
2. (U) On March 25, Conservative MP Zviad Dzidziguri was 
hospitalized and reportedly in a coma as a result of his 
participation in the opposition's hunger strike -- then in 
its 16th day (ref A).  Following this, Ilia II ignored the 
opposition's plea to stay away and visited the hunger 
strikers in front of Parliament and again called on them to 
stop.  Rather than continue the hunger strike, he told them 
to "find other forms" of protest, noting they should do 
everything they can to serve their homeland.  UNC and NR 
leaders then ended the hunger strike, saying they "could not 
deny the Patriarch's request."  (Comment:  The opposition's 
hunger strike did not succeed in forcing any concessions from 
the GOG.  However, the Patriarch's appeal gave them a 
face-saving way out of the situation.  End comment.) 
3. (U) The same day, Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze 
expressed her "deep gratitude" to Ilia II for asking the 
opposition to end the hunger strike.  She then said that the 
GOG's major goal is to hold elections in a democratic and 
transparent manner.  She called on the opposition to return 
to the negotiating table and agree on all the issues 
necessary to hold these elections.  UNC leaders Koba 
Davitashvili and others said that they accepted Saakashvili's 
challenge, and would defeat his party in the elections. 
Consequently, it appears that the opposition is now turning 
to the pre-election campaign for the May 21 parliamentary 
election.  As of the March 26 deadline to register with the 
CEC, 60 parties had indicated their intent to participate in 
the coming election. 
4. (C) In a March 26 meeting with ambassadors from NATO 
member states, Burjanadze expressed regret that the 
government had not been able to reach a comprehensive 
agreement with the opposition on election reform, something 
she blamed on the fact that many opposition leaders had 
concluded that radicalization was in their political 
interest.  Burjanadze said both David Gamkrelidze and Koba 
Davitashvili had essentially admitted to her that this was 
the logic behind their actions, although Burjanadze argued 
that in fact the opposition had lost ground with voters as a 
result of extreme tactics.  Burjanadze explained how some 
opposition leaders, including David Usupashvili and Levan 
Gachechiladze, had met with her repeatedly in recent weeks 
but felt they had to keep this unofficial contact secret so 
as not to anger their allies. 
5. (C) Burjanadze said that even without a formal compromise, 
the government would make additional concessions to the 
opposition, including ensuring that an opposition-appointed 
member of every District Election Commission (DEC) would be 
designated as DEC secretary, the position responsible for 
filling out protocols and for receiving complaints.  She said 
the government remained willing to consider creating a 
parliamentary or interagency commission, chaired by an 
opposition member, to investigate complaints during the 
campaign and on election day.  She said Usupashvili and 
Gachechiladze had asked for a slight delay in the date of the 
election, apparently to provide more time to recover from the 
hunger strike and to get organized.  Burjanadze said the 
government would be willing to postpone the election from May 
21 to May 31, but only if the opposition came forward 
publicly to request it.  Otherwise, she said, the government 
would be criticized for setting the date for after the May 26 
celebration of Georgia's Independence, which the opposition 
had previously asked the government not to do. 
6. (C) The GOG has reconstituted the Inter-Agency Task Force 
TBILISI 00000528  002 OF 002 
(IATF) for Free and Fair Elections from the January 5 
election.  Membership of the IATF includes the Ministry of 
Justice, MFA, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and State 
Minister for Regional Coordination Issues.  NDI recommended &#x000
A;that the Public Defender's Office be granted observer status, 
although this has not yet been done.  Minister of Justice, 
Nika Gvaramia, chairs the IATF, as former MOJ Eka 
Tkeshelashvili did during the presidential election.  On 
March 26, the IATF briefed Poloff, NDI, and the OSCE on the 
IATF's composition, goals and target audience (incl. observer 
missions, election NGOs, the Public Defender, diplomatic 
missions, political parties, Parliament, and the media.)  The 
IATF intends to meet regularly and provide election updates 
to these groups.  It intends to focus on transparency, 
inclusiveness, and anonymity.  NDI suggested the IATF also 
include impartiality as one of their guiding principles.  The 
MOIA representative mentioned it is his agency's intention to 
keep the police "as far away from the election precincts" as 
7. (U) On March 27, Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava and Deputy 
Speaker of Parliament Misha Machavariani confirmed that 
Speaker Nino Burjanadze will be number one on the ruling 
party's nationwide party list for the May 21 election.  The 
United National Movement changed their official name to 
United National Movement for a Victorious Georgia, when they 
registered on March 26. 
8. (C) Burjanadze's comments are a welcome sign of GOG 
commitment to better elections, especially given the 
extremely weakened state of the opposition.  Some of the 
opposition's legitimate complaints have been addressed 
(lowering the party list threshold, replacing the board of 
the Public TV Broadcaster, and adding opposition 
representation -- though not at "parity" -- to the DECs.) 
However, others have not.  Nearly all outside observers 
believe the GOG retained the current 75 single mandate 
"majoritarian" districts (based on outdated and highly varied 
current populations of former Soviet administrative 
boundaries) because it believes the system will likely 
advantage the ruling National Movement.  The GOG also enacted 
only some of NDI's and OSCE's recommendations to amend the 
election code (ref B). 
9. (C) After repeated interventions by us, including the 
Ambassador with Speaker Burjanadze, the GOG will not remove 
critical information from the protocols, as there was some 
earlier move to do.  The GOG will remove the total number of 
voters and total number of valid ballots from the protocols, 
in an effort to simplify them and reduce the number of 
protocols with clerical errors.  This move is contrary to NDI 
and OSCE recommendations, as it also removes some of the 
verification ability from election analysis.  It will still 
be possible, however, as we strongly pushed, to calculate key 
information such as voter turnout from the information on the 
protocols, which will again be posted publicly on the CEC 


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