08TBILISI829, WEST GEORGIAN AUTHORITIES READY, OPPOSITION

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI829 2008-05-20 15:30 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO8756
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBW RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHSI #0829/01 1411530
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 201530Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9472
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 000829 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM KDEM GG
SUBJECT: WEST GEORGIAN AUTHORITIES READY, OPPOSITION 
DUBIOUS BEFORE ELECTION 
 
1. (SBU) Summary: Poloff visited the city of Zugdidi in 
Georgia's Western Samegrelo region for a pre-election visit 
May 6-7.  Poloff met with regional government, the District 
Election Commission (DEC), four political parties, NGOs and 
journalists, and conducted an interview on free and fair 
elections with local radio station Atenati.  The local 
Gamgebeli claimed that the pre-election period is normal, 
with no problems.  He told Poloff that the authorities know 
any intimidation or interference in the election process is 
impermissible.  The DEC Chair claimed to be fully prepared 
for the elections.  The ruling United National Movement (UNM) 
regional representative also said things were going smoothly. 
 (He candidly explained UNM methods to get out the vote.) 
Three opposition parties disagreed, and alleged they face 
unfair local TV coverage and intimidation.  The local NGO 
coordinator claimed that her organization was trained and 
ready.  Local journalists agreed that only local radio 
station Atenati was providing equal campaign coverage. 
Poloff pointed out the importance that these elections be 
free, fair and transparent in each meeting.  He said each 
organization had responsibility toward this end.  Overall, 
the region appeared well poised for the election, with fewer 
areas of real concern than in January.  End summary. 
 
"All is Well" in Government, DEC 
-------------------------------- 
 
2. (SBU) On May 6, Poloff met with local Gamgebeli (the 
regional government administrator, hired by the city council) 
Aleksander Kobalia in Zugdidi.  Kobalia (whose father was an 
MP who died the morning of May 7, and whose family owns the 
local TV station, Odishi) claimed that the pre-election 
period is normal, with no problems.  He told Poloff that he 
and all authorities, including law enforcement, knew any 
intimidation or interference in the election process is 
impermissible.  He claimed he understood the importance these 
elections hold for Georgia, and that they must be free, fair, 
and transparent. 
 
3. (SBU) Poloff next met Nana Okujava, the DEC Chairwoman for 
Zugdidi district.  She claimed everything was on schedule, 
saying the DEC was well aware of its tasks and 
responsibilities and all 13 commissioners were working 
together toward a common goal of transparent elections.  She 
noted the district has 8 candidates vying for the 
majoritarian seat and 12 political parties on the party list 
ballot.  Of the 105 precincts (PECs), only 5 had working 
landlines for faxes and Okujava was unaware of additional 
faxes.  Consequently, she was planning to send the protocols 
in from the DEC, and not directly from the precincts to the 
Central Election Commission (CEC).  (Note: USAID-funded 
implementing partner IFES -- formerly known as the 
International Foundation for Election Systems -- has 
subsequently said that the CEC will provide GSM faxes to 
nearly half the other precincts in the district.  End note.) 
Poloff stressed the importance that these elections be free, 
fair and transparent.  Okujava said she understood this. 
 
UNM: It's a Family Affair 
------------------------- 
 
4. (SBU) Poloff next met Lasha Damenia, head of the UNM in 
Zugdidi.  Damenia affably explained that the UNM feels quite 
confident about their chances in the coming election.  He 
said their staff is largely unchanged since January.  He 
claimed there were some problems with the voters' list this 
time, but their door-to-door campaign was successful.  Having 
collected family information and likely voting trends, the 
UNM will now provide voters' lists to their party activists 
at each PEC on Election Day.  Starting at 3 PM, the party 
members will consult with the PEC chairs throughout the rest 
of the day to review the voting register and see who has not 
yet voted.  The party activists will then go to those people 
who have not yet voted and offer them a ride to the PEC to 
vote.  Poloff asked what the UNM does with those who seem 
disinclined to vote for them.  Damenia said they usually 
approach several of that person's family members or friends, 
and encourage them to persuade the undecided voter to vote 
UNM.  Damenia explained that a UNM supporter could say "maybe 
you don't like this (UNM) candidate, but we're voting for him 
and he's better than the rest.  We think you should vote for 
him too."  (Comment:  While not necessarily ethical, this 
conduct does not violate the election code, unless the party 
activists or chair interfere with the voting or tabulation 
processes.  End comment.) 
 
5. (SBU) Damenia claimed that majoritarian candidate Koba 
Davitashvili (the Joint Opposition candidate, not from 
Zugdidi) could make problems if he did not win.  Damenia said 
 
TBILISI 00000829  002 OF 003 
 
 
Koba only draws 4-5 people at each of his meetings.  Damenia 
gave Gocha Pipia (a former vodka-distiller and independent 
incumbent MP) a better c
hance in the majoritarian race, but 
said "he has not been seen in Zugdidi since he went to 
Parliament four years ago."  Damenia claimed the UNM 
majoritarian candidate, Pridon Todua (a heart doctor, who 
lived in Moscow for years and has some family ties and a 
small clinic in Zugdidi), is the best candidate and very much 
a local.  Damenia acknowledged the importance of transparency 
and fairness to the election and dismissed the likelihood of 
anything else.  Poloff pointed out the responsibility of all 
parties to not interfere with the election process. 
 
The Opposition Disagrees 
------------------------ 
 
6. (SBU) On May 6, Poloff also met with Temur Toloraia, the 
local majoritarian candidate of Giorgi Targamadze's 
Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM).  (Note: Toloraia gained 
some small fame as the lawyer who successfully sued to 
reverse the government's decision to close the Zugdidi 
market.  End note.)  He claimed his party had no access to 
coverage on Odishi TV.  Although they were priced out of the 
market (all parties agreed the normal cost of 200 USD per 
minute is now 600 USD), Toloraia said they would not be given 
airtime even if they had money for ads.  He said his campaign 
motto is "Zugdidi without Clans," and that the Kobalia family 
is the longtime face of clannish corruption in Zugdidi. 
Toloraia also showed Poloff a newspaper article in which UNM 
candidate Todua was quoted as saying he "had not planned to 
enter politics" and was doing it due to UNM prodding.  Asked 
what he would do after the election, Toloraia claimed "we 
will win."  Toloraia claimed his door-to-door campaign had 
also discovered problems with the voters' list. 
 
7. (SBU) On May 7, Poloff met Republican majoritarian 
candidate, and former judge, Nona Toloraia (no known relation 
to Temur, above).  She claimed that her party supporters were 
experiencing intimidation at meetings, including by supposed 
UNM supporters who are violently threatening her constituents 
at their homes.  She said that her door-to-door campaign had 
revealed 600 dead persons on the voters' list, and 980 people 
registered without addresses (Zugdidi district borders 
Abkhazia, and some Gali residents have voted in Zugdidi 
elections).  Toloraia also complained about the 
inaccessibility of placing ads on Odishi TV.  She claimed the 
UNM is planning to conduct voting carousels in the villages 
(where few cameras are located).  She appealed to 
international observers to spend the entire day in one PEC, 
saying "15 minutes in one PEC is not enough (to prevent 
malfeasance)." 
 
8. (SBU) Joint Opposition candidate Koba Davitashvili was not 
present for a planned May 7 meeting, so Poloff spoke with 
Zviad Pipia, a party leader from Tbilisi.  Pipia claimed 
their supporters are scared due to pressure from local 
authorities.  He claimed the voters' lists were in bad shape, 
with many IDPs included on them but not present in the 
district.  He alleged that teachers would be fired if they 
were seen as supporting the opposition.  Pipia claimed that 
he and his party activists were shooting a video of the 
pressure tactics and had reported intimidation to the police, 
but had not yet received a response.  Pipia alleged that they 
too are blocked from Odishi TV and billboards, and only the 
Georgian Public Broadcaster (in Tbilisi) would give them 
airtime.  Pipia claimed Davitashvili's campaign slogan is 
"Not Violence -- Peace and Justice."  Notably, one of the 
Joint Opposition's DEC commissioners joined the meeting and 
said that he had not had any problems at the DEC.  Poloff 
told Pipia that the Embassy and international community is 
holding all parties responsible for their actions and words. 
We said violence has no place in the elections or in Georgian 
society. 
 
ISFED and the Media 
------------------- 
 
9. (SBU) On May 7, Poloff held a roundtable with local NGO 
International Society for Free and Elections and Democracy 
(ISFED) Regional Coordinator Miranda Meskhi, Radio Atenati 
journalists, and other media representatives (including an 
Odishi employee).  Meskhi confirmed that she will have ISFED 
observers at nearly all the PECs in Zugdidi.  She agreed that 
the DEC is well-prepared and was aware of all stages of the 
DEC and PEC training plan.  She attends all DEC sessions, 
which she said are open.  She claimed no opposition parties 
have filed any claims with the DEC.  The Radio Atenati 
journalists detailed their USAID-funded IFES program, which 
was carried over from the presidential election.  The program 
 
TBILISI 00000829  003 OF 003 
 
 
provides equal airtime to each political party and dedicates 
a significant amount of news each morning to the election. 
They are also running a call-in program called "Right to 
Vote," formatted around problems they see in the election. 
All journalists agreed that Odishi TV is essentially blocking 
any coverage of the opposition. 
 
10. (U) On May 7, Poloff conducted a taped interview with 
Radio Atenati.  He explained the importance of these 
elections to Georgia, that they be free and fair, and that 
violence is unacceptable in a democratic society.  Poloff 
also mentioned that USAID is contributing millions of dollars 
to elections assistance, and that Embassy and other 
international observers are watching the elections closely. 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
11. (SBU) Overall, the Zugdidi district appeared to be in 
decent shape heading into the election.  The DECs lack of 
awareness about the faxes appears to have been addressed. 
The lack of access to local TV coverage and problems with the 
voters' list appeared genuine and founded.  The allegations 
of intimidation, while difficult to prove, were consistent. 
However, even these claims appeared less overt and frequent 
than those during the January election. 
TEFFT

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