08TBILISI832, COMPETITIVE PARLIAMENTARY RACES SHAPE UP IN ADJARA

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI832 2008-05-20 17:08 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO8868
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBW RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHSI #0832/01 1411708
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 201708Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9480
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 TBILISI 000832 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR EUR/CARC AND DRL 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM GG
SUBJECT: COMPETITIVE PARLIAMENTARY RACES SHAPE UP IN ADJARA 
 
1. (SBU) Summary: The autonomous region of Adjara will elect 
five majoritarian members of parliament on May 21, in 
addition to party list candidates that will be chosen 
according to the nationwide vote.  Although the United 
National Movement (UNM) is strong in Adjara and is likely to 
win all but one of the five majoritarian seats and a majority 
of votes for the party lists, the races are likely to be 
close.  The Republican Party is also historically strong in 
Adjara, and the newly-formed Christian Democratic Party may 
draw a respectable number of votes.  The Joint Opposition, 
however, is offering little to voters except bitterness and 
promises of post-election rancor.  There is no evidence of 
major electoral fraud in the making, although we did 
encounter a serious allegation of misuse of city government 
money and a few complaints by the opposition parties.  The 
media seems passive and unwilling to actively pursue 
interesting allegations of election misconduct or to sponsor 
debates on its own without support from non-government 
organizations (NGO).  End Summary. 
 
2. (SBU) The city of Batumi continues to show signs of 
increasing prosperity, based on its attractiveness as a 
destination for tourists, especially from Armenia and Turkey. 
 Numbers of new restaurants and shops seem to have opened 
since last summer.  Numerous work crews in green city 
uniforms were busy sprucing up the boulevard along the beach 
and parks around the old town area.  Memories of Aslan 
Abashidze's corrupt and autocratic rule are still fresh, 
however.  We met with an ad hoc, five-member "focus group" of 
Batumi residents to find our what issues were foremost in 
their minds.  They included a doctor, a teacher, a 
businessman, an unemployed person and two students.  At least 
one of them intended to vote for an opposition party and not 
the governing United National Movement.  As a group, they 
agreed that their greatest concern is the tense situation 
with Abkhazia and the potential for war.  Secondary was the 
economy, and third were concerns about health and education. 
We were interested to compare their issues to those cited as 
important by the political party officials we would meet 
later in the day. 
 
THE REPUBLICANS 
 
3. (SBU) We met with David Berdzenishvili, the Republican's 
majoritarian candidate for central Batumi.  Berdzenishvili is 
a Batumi native, and along with his brother, Levan 
Berdzenishvili (running in Tbilisi's upscale Vake District), 
is a well-known Republican political figure in the city.  The 
Berdzenishvilis were dissidents in Soviet days and as a 
result, the Republicans have enjoyed enduring popularity in 
Batumi.  Berdzenishvili's main complaint about the election 
process was that the voter list for the city seems to him to 
be inflated.  He said that the city had only 121,000 
residents in 2002.  He believes the city's population has not 
grown since then, but there are 96,000 voters on the list. 
He claimed the local problem is reflected in the CEC's 
national voter list, which has 3.5 million voters in a 
country that has only between 4 million and 4.5 million 
voters.  He believes that the list has an excess of 800,000 
voters in the whole country.  He also complained that some of 
his own family members are not on the voter list in Tbilisi 
where they live, claiming they had been surreptitiously 
removed since the presidential election.  (Note:  The Council 
of Europe,  however, reports that there have been significant 
improvements to the voters' list since the Presidential 
election and recommends no further action until after the 
Parliamentary elections.  End note.)  Much of his campaign 
workers' time has been spent going door to door in Batumi 
trying to verify the names on the voter list.  He complained 
that whereas anyone could check the entire voter list before 
the January election, now only the voter himself can verify 
if his name is on the list, which therefore necessitates the 
door to door effort. (Note:  Voters themselves can check 
their names against the list, which was posted outside 
election precincts prior to the elections.  End note.) 
 
4.  Berdzenishvili said that 37 percent of the vote in Batumi 
went for Saakashvili in the January presidential election. 
He himself is holding four or five meetings a day with voters 
and going door to door to distribute his brochures.  Asked 
for a copy of the brochures he said he and his campaign 
workers were distributing, he had none at his campaign 
headquarters.  He said that the Republicans only learned the 
number their party list will bear on the ballot on April 22. 
Therefore, he sighed over another unfairness, which is that 
the United National Movement is still entitled to the number 
5 from previous elections.  Therefore, posters and brochures 
had only just been prepared and he intended to start putting 
them out.  Billboards he deemed too expensive.  He thought 
that the ubiquitous National Movement billboards and posters 
 
TBILISI 00000832  002 OF 004 
 
 
in
 Batumi were alienating voters.  Another complaint 
Berdzenishvili raised was that one school principal refused 
to let him meet with teachers during working hours, claiming 
it would disrupt schoolwork. 
 
5.  Berdzenishvili was familiar with the concerns expressed 
by the focus group, ticking off from the list health care, 
foreign policy and employment as key local issues and 
Abkhazia, employment, education and health and miscellaneous 
personal problems such as natural gas cutoffs, living space 
limitations and pensions as nationwide issues.  He said that 
a high turnout in the parliamentary elections will help the 
Republicans.  He thinks the Joint Opposition and the 
Christian Democrats will win some votes, but said those 
parties do not have strong majoritarian candidates.  To win, 
he claimed the United National Movement is relying on its 
"administrative resources", and its alleged control of all 
election commission chairperson and secretary positions. 
 
JOINT OPPOSITION 
 
6.  At the offices of the Joint Opposition, their campaign 
manager, Jumber Tavartkiladze, said that his gut feeling 
suggests that 80 to 85 percent of Batumi residents support 
his movement.  He based this judgment on his 10 or so 
meetings per day, which drew 55-70 people to each, all of 
whom were enthusiastic for the opposition.  This enthusiasm 
derives from the mistakes Saakashvili has made, he said, 
which mainly consist of "putting many Georgians in jail." 
Like Berdzenishvili, Tavartkiladze complained of problems 
with the voter list.  He said he can prove that the elections 
are already falsified.  Only 70,000 of the 96,000 names on 
the voter list are real, and "dead souls" and duplicate names 
can be found in all the 74 precincts in Adjara, he said.  He 
showed us a handful of complaints he had prepared for the 
Precinct Electoral Commission, each of which had 10 or 15 
suspect names on it.  Seven people on one of them supposedly 
were living at an address occupied by the city morgue, he 
claimed. 
 
7.  Tavarkiladze's list of important campaign issues differed 
from the focus group, but neatly coincided with the Joint 
Opposition view of Georgia.  He said the issues were lack of 
rule of law, justice and an independent judiciary.  He also 
cited human rights violations, especially restrictions on 
free speech.  Private property protections are lacking and 
people are afraid of being evicted from their apartments, he 
said.  It is almost impossible to find a job in Adjara and it 
small businesses are being suffocated, he said.  Both were 
surprising claim given the obvious economic renaissance in 
Batumi.  He explained that taxes collected go directly to the 
police. 
 
8.  Curious whether anything in his background accounted for 
his dim view of Saakashvili's Georgia, we asked what he did 
in Soviet days and under the reign of Aslan Abashidze in 
Adjara.  The white-haired Tavarkiladze laughed, said he was 
39 and did not hold a job before 1991, and added that after 
1997, he worked as head of the department of communications 
in Abashidze's Ministry of Internal Affairs.  He said he and 
his family led demonstrations against Abashidze in 2004.  He 
is a member of the People's Party. 
 
9.  Asked his opinion of the new Christian Democratic Party, 
Tavartkiladze.  He said that the party is not popular and 
that people remember its leader, Giorgi Targamadze, as 
betraying Imedi television and the Georgian people by closing 
the station in December.  He insinuated that the party's 
local majoritarian candidate is a puppet of the United 
National Movement, because he is being investigated on 
criminal charges and would not have run without a guarantee 
of protection.  Tavartkiladze continued that six members of 
his own family had been arrested in Batumi for saying that if 
the government falsifies the May election they would lead a 
public revolt.  They had been released from prison only a few 
days before, and Tavartkiladze credited intervention by the 
U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi for their release, after his father 
had met with Poloff.  He said he was very grateful for that. 
 
GEORGIAN YOUNG LAWYERS ASSOCIATION 
 
10.  The Director of the local chapter of the Georgian Young 
Lawyers Association (GYLA), Nino Talalashvili, is an 
articulate, well-educated attorney.  She painted a picture of 
a relatively fair election environment.  GYLA has been 
monitoring the two local television Channels, TV Adjara and 
Channel 25.  The NGO will supply 150 monitors on election 
day, some stationed in precincts and other moving from place 
to place in the mountainous areas of Adjara.  GYLA has 
trained television station employees in their 
 
TBILISI 00000832  003 OF 004 
 
 
responsibilities under Georgian law, Talalashvili said.  She 
said all the candidates are getting their fair share of time 
on television and in that respect the situation was better 
than during the presidential election. 
 
11.  Talalashvili cited one particular election violation by 
the National Movement: the Minister of Education accompanied 
a United National Movement majoritarian candidate at a 
campaign meeting, during the Minister's regular working 
hours.  Also, some candidates had been giving small gifts to 
voters, although the practice had stopped.  She could not 
think of any incidents of intimidation or blackmail of 
voters.  Nor had she heard of pressure on teachers.  She 
confirmed what Brdzenishvili had said, that the population of 
Batumi is not growing significantly.  Although more jobs are 
being created, she said, people still live in their villages 
and are on the voters lists there, preferring to commute into 
Batumi for work.  She fears that frequent elections and 
disappointment with the process are contributing to apathy 
among voters and lower turnout. 
 
THE UNITED NATIONAL MOVEMENT 
 
12. The local campaign manager for the United National 
Movement Giorgi Chakhnashvili told us that he knows the 
parliamentary elections will not be easy and that Batumi is 
an important place to win votes and seats in Parliament.  The 
UNM is trying to keep the campaign positive and focus on 
future plans, despite the negative approach by the 
opposition.  The party has more than 1000 
"micro-coordinators" in Adjara who are going door to door, 
distributing literature, surveying voter preferences, 
mobilizing supporters and getting out the vote.  It has 
benefited from training by USAID-funded NDI and IRI programs 
and has taken their recommendations to heart.  He recalled 
that the UNM won the presidential vote in Batumi by 4000 
votes over the closest challenger.  He expects the UNM to do 
better in the parliamentary election because the opposition 
is fragment 
 
13.  The campaign manager dismissed opposition predictions 
that the campaign will be inevitably rigged, citing the 
presence of opposition party members on t
he Precinct Election 
Commissions and among precinct-level election monitors.  He 
considers the fact that opposition members must sign the 
precinct's protocol an important guarantee.  He admitted that 
few opposition members had been chosen as precinct chairs or 
secretaries, but seemed unconcerned.  He denied that the UNM 
has any wish to falsify the elections, or even the means to 
do so.  He considered any errors in the voter lists to be 
minor, noting that the Republicans had reported only 57 
duplicate names.  He claimed that names could not be 
arbitrarily deleted from the list without clear evidence that 
they are deceased or were no longer present in the districts. 
 
 
CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS 
 
14.  Niaz Zosidze, the Batumi campaign manager for the newly 
formed Christian Democratic (CD) Party, said that the 
Christian Democrats want to be the "constructive opposition" 
in Georgia.  He added that his party disagrees with the often 
heard calls for revolt against Saakashvili, but "will not 
protect the government from the people's anger, and will 
protect them from government aggression."   The party's 
slogan is "time for change", with change needed in nearly all 
sectors of Georgian society.  The CD message to the 
government is that it must address people's needs, Zosidze 
said.  Aside from that, the CD's mission is to "bring 
Orthodox morality to politics", Zosidze said.  He said that 
his party is tolerant of other religions, but wants to 
protect Georgia from "aggressive atheism".  He expressed 
particular concern about sects that admonish their members 
that they should not protect the state, or should not give 
blood.  Such sects are a danger to families, he explained. 
Nevertheless, he said the party is for peaceful cooperation 
with those who do not seek to divide people with different 
religions, including the Jews. 
 
15.  Zosidze said that one example of the party's positive 
message is its promotion of a new water policy, to make 
Georgia an exporter of what will in the future be a scarce 
commodity in the region and the world.  Georgia has abundant 
sources of water and investors are ready to help the country 
develop them, so that all Georgians have enough and there is 
some left over for export.  The party wants to reimburse 
people who lost money in the 1990's in failed banks.  It 
wants to rejuvenate tea and citrus farming with state 
subsidies to agriculture. 
 
 
TBILISI 00000832  004 OF 004 
 
 
16.  Zosidze said that he is a professor at the local 
university.  He said that he ran into problems with the UNM 
when he became active in opposition politics.  He was removed 
as head of the department in which he worked, but was allowed 
to keep his job because the UNM had no legal power to remove 
him as a professor.  He has experienced no other pressure 
from the government because of his activities, he said.  The 
two local television stations have not sponsored any debates 
or talk shows featuring the parties recently, Zosidze said. 
They only show video of the various parties' meetings with 
voters. 
 
17.  Zosidze was proud of the "dynamic development" of the 
young CD party.  After starting in April, the party now has 
three offices in Batumi.  It will field candidates in three 
of the five majoritarian districts in Adjara: Kobuleti, 
Batumi and Koden.  The party can afford only 10 salaried 
coordinators in Batumi and relies on volunteers to get the 
rest of its work done.  Funds and publications are 
distributed to Batumi from the central party office in 
Tbilisi.  Campaign strategy is to hold meetings, hear 
people's problems, write them down, analyze them, and work 
out solutions.  Like the UNM, the party has taken advantage 
of training offered by USAID-funded NDI, and is training 
party workers on its own.  Still, Zosidze said that there is 
fear among voters to express open support for the CD.  As an 
example, he said that an activist in Batumi had been told not 
to campaign by an unknown person.  Zosidze said the CD wants 
to take advantage of people's lack of trust in the existing 
system.  Most people think economic development is too weak, 
he said, and educated people are concerned by instability and 
unfairness in the political and judicial systems.  Not 
surprisingly, he said that IDP's show the most interest in 
the problems of the separatist regions.  The IDP's feel 
ignored and that they have no role in solving the conflicts, 
he said. 
 
THEQDIA 
 
18.  We met with reporters from a local newspaper, a radio 
station and one of the locQAdjara Qevision stations, 
TV25.  In general, they demonstrated a lack of willingness to 
pursue aggressive journalism and to follow up on election 
problems that their reporting revealed.  The television 
station was not running any debates, its reporter said, 
because funding from NGO's for them had dried up.  He had no 
explanation for why the station was unwilling or unable to 
organize debates on its own, which would seem to be a rather 
low-budget proposition.  One of the reporters, who works for 
a local weekly newspaper, told us that the Batumi city 
government had appropriated GEL 600,000 (USD 414,000) for a 
door to door survey of people's economic status, just before 
the elections.  The contract for performing the survey was 
granted to the United National Movement without an open 
tender, which is required for contracts of that size.  The 
reporter said that there was no response to the article from 
the local government about what seemed to be an obvious gift 
to the UNM to fund door to door campaigning and give it 
inside knowledge of voters' situations.  However, she had not 
found the city officials' lack of response newsworthy enough 
to publish in subsequent editions of the weekly paper.  Nor 
had the television station followed up on the report by 
testing its accuracy and interviewing city officials. 
 
TEFFT

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