08TBILISI755, PRE-ELECTION TRIP TO SAMTSKHE-JAVAKHETI

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI755 2008-05-06 14:12 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO6443
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBW RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHSI #0755/01 1271412
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 061412Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9406
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 000755 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM GG
SUBJECT: PRE-ELECTION TRIP TO SAMTSKHE-JAVAKHETI 
 
REF: 2007 TBILISI 3148 
 
1.  (SBU)  Summary:  Poloff visited the towns of Borjomi, 
Akhaltsikhe, Ninotsminda and Akhalkalaki in the region of 
Samtskhe-Javakheti May 1-2 to gauge the pre-election mood of 
the political parties, NGOS, press, local government 
officials and general populace in the lead-up to the May 21 
Parliamentary elections.  Samtskhe-Javakheti was one of two 
minority regions (the other was Kvemo-Kartli) during the 
Presidential election which recorded suspiciously high voter 
turnout and high vote count for the United National Movement 
(UNM).  In the spa town of Borjomi (not considered a minority 
region), there were campaign headquarters for several 
political parties, in contrast to Akhalkalaki (an ethnic 
Armenian region), where only the UNM was present.  In all of 
the cities visited, the UNM was the only active force, and 
other parties, even if they had a presence, had yet to get 
into the full swing of campaigning.  Residents from the 
region pointed to the fact that opposition candidates were 
rarely seen or heard, and most locals were not familiar with 
them as a result.  Preliminary indications are that most 
voters will vote for UNM, saying that they were tired of the 
Joint Opposition (the United National Council of 
Opposition-UNC) running negative campaigns without concrete 
platforms.  According to them, what the country needs now is 
stability and UNM can provide it.  End Comment. 
 
UNM--Deeds not Words 
-------------------- 
 
2.  (SBU)  The UNM representative in Akhalkalaki, Hamlet 
Movsesyan, repeated many of the same UNM accomplishments to 
Poloff that he mentioned in December (reftel).  He cited the 
biggest problem in the area as unemployment and is hoping 
that between the Kars-Akhalkalaki railroad project, the two 
Millennium Challenge road projects (Akhalkalaki to Tbilisi 
and Ninotsminda to Tsalka), and possible easing of visa 
restrictions with Russia that this problem will soon too be 
addressed.  Movsesyan underscored that only UNM has Armenian 
candidates running for Parliamentary seats--two on the 
majoritarian list and Movsesyan himself on the party list. 
He went on to say that the other candidates are two Georgians 
who live in Tbilisi and had yet to make their presence known 
in the region.  Movsesyan said that locals would not vote for 
someone whom they do not know and who have no long-term ties 
to the region.  He reiterated the UNM slogan that locals want 
to see results (deeds) and not just talk (words)--and with 
UNM they have.  (Comment: Poloff met with Labor and 
Industrialist Party representatives in Akhalkalaki.  Although 
neither have campaign headquarters there, they offered the 
use of a room in a nearby building, but when Poloff went 
there, the door was locked and the person with the key could 
not be located.  End Comment.) 
 
Gamgebelis--Can You Say "Squeaky Clean"? 
--------------------------------------- 
 
3.  (SBU)  Poloff met with Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda 
Gamgebelis to reemphasize the need for transparent elections, 
underlining that local officials should not interfere in the 
process and that police presence needs to be confined to the 
outside of the precinct according to the electoral law. 
(Comment:  Gamgebelis are city managers hired by the local 
Sakrebulo.  The Sakrebulo is a council elected by the local 
populace to run local government.)   Both Gamgebelis 
acknowledged that the stakes are high for this election and 
that the international community will be watching the process 
closely.  Akhalakali's newly appointed Gamgebeli, Nair 
Samsonidze was quick to boast that the turnout will be even 
higher for UNM this election than for the Presidential 
election.  (Comment:  Samsonidze was to be officially 
appointed on May 2.  He was previously the Deputy Gamgebeli, 
but was considered for the post of Gamgebeli when Arutian 
Oganesyan vacated the position several weeks ago to run for 
Parliament. Voter turn out in Alkhalkalaki DEC 40 during 
Presidential Elections was some 81.1 percent, and of this, 
89.8 percent voted for UNM. End Comment.)  Both officials 
were adept at quoting statistics to show how the UNM has 
benefited the region, Samsonidze citing the nearly five fold 
increase in the region's budget since the UNM came to power. 
 
UNC Candidate--Me and My Shadow 
------------------------------- 
 
4.  (SBU) UNC candidate from Akhaltsikhe Valiko Baliashvili 
was the only opposition candidate with whom Poloff met that 
could explain in detail his platform and plans for the region 
should he be elected.  Baliashvili, who is an experienced 
politician, was active in communist times, in office during 
Shevardnadze's rule, and four years ago helped campaign for 
Saakashvili.  Baliashvili's plan centers around creating 
 
TBILISI 00000755  002 OF 002 
 
 
conditions for small and medium businesses, investigating 
questionable practices associated with the installation of 
communal electricity meters, lobbying for the benefits 
promised to the mountainous regions in earlier regimes (such 
as salary increa
ses, earlier retirement ages, discounts on 
fuel, free education), and decentralizing the budgeting 
process so that local governments receive a percentage of the 
total budget and are independent in planning their 
expenditures.  Baliashvili told Poloff that he is being 
pressured by the government for his political participation. 
He went on to say that due to his activism, his wife was 
fired from her job as principal of the local school, and his 
son was arrested on false drug charges.  Baliashvili said 
that his son, who is currently serving a prison sentence, was 
denied a Presidential pardon because Baliashvili refused to 
quit his campaign for public office.  Baliashvili said that 
police in civilian attire are following him along the 
campaign trail, and when he leaves his constituents' homes, 
police then question citizens about what was discussed. 
(Comment:  Poloff also heard these allegations of pressure 
from the Labor Party representative in Akhalkalaki, however 
the Industrialists party representative in Akhalkalaki said 
that they were not experiencing these difficulties. End 
Comment.) 
 
Borjomi--Calm Waters 
--------------------- 
 
5.  (SBU)  NGO representatives in the spa town of Borjomi 
told Poloff that the pre-election atmosphere is considerably 
calmer now in comparison to the Presidential pre-election 
period when it was incredibly tense.  So far, they have heard 
no major complaints, but said "it is too soon to tell yet." 
According to a local NGO who works with media, only Giorgi 
Targamadze's party the Christian Democrats has filed for its 
free television air time.  (Comment:  During the Presidential 
election, access to media was a chief criticism of the UNC. 
End Comment.)  She suspected that the UNC would wait until 
the last days/hours of the campaign to make their request. 
Several opined that the popularity of the UNC is waning due 
to its negative campaign and Georgians are growing weary. 
(Comment:  Recent public opinion surveys which show UNC's 
support dropping from the twenty percentile to the teens 
indicate that this is true. End Comment.)  One representative 
said that opposition candidates can no longer show up the 
last two weeks of a campaign and sway public opinion with 
their rhetoric.  Georgian voters have become more 
sophisticated and want to hear about platforms and programs 
to promote stability, not negative rhetoric.  The same 
representative said that even if the UNC plans protests the 
election results, that the turnout will be small and momentum 
will soon fizzle. 
 
6.  (SBU)   Comment:  It is interesting that two opposition 
candidates, Temur Baramidze (Labor) and Otar Iagorashvili 
(Republican) who are Georgian and reside in Tbilisi would be 
on the ticket to run in Samtskhe-Javakheti, a region which is 
notably 90 percent Armenian.  It is hard to understand why 
Georgians who don't have a permanent presence in the region 
expect to win and why they would expend effort even to do so 
unless perhaps it is part of a larger UNC strategy to cry 
foul when the UNM wins again a large percentage in the region 
during the May 21 elections as it did in January.  Above all, 
Samtskhe-Javakhetians are realists, which is aptly 
demonstrated by Nair Samsonidze's not so subtle shift since 
Poloff last visited the region.  Samsonidze was previously 
the mayor of Akhalkalaki.  He was never officially a member 
of an opposition party, but his rhetoric aligned him with 
opposition and nationalist sentiments.  Samsonidze now lauds 
the deeds of UNM and is working hard to have a good showing 
during the elections.  His boast of achieving a 92 percent 
turnout is an indicator that he takes his role of Gamgebeli 
seriously and links his future success and that of the region 
with high percentages on election day.  Unlike the previous 
visit, Poloff this time heard no negative comments about the 
closing of the Russian base in Akhalkalaki and the serious 
consequences this has had for employment in the region.  End 
Comment. 
 
 
TEFFT

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