08TBILISI833, PRE-ELECTION TRIP TO KUTAISI

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI833 2008-05-20 17:14 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO8882
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBW RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHSI #0833/01 1411714
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 201714Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9484
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 000833 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR/CARC AND DRL 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KDEM GG
SUBJECT: PRE-ELECTION TRIP TO KUTAISI 
 
1. (SBU) Summary. On May 1 and 2 Emboff visited Kutaisi, 
Georgia's second largest city to gauge the pre-election mood 
in the lead-up to the May 21 Parliamentary elections. 
Kutaisi is the capitol of Imereti, and remains a pocket of 
persistent unemployment, with shuttered automobile factories 
that closed after independence remaining a potent and very 
visible symbol of economic stagnation.  While the surrounding 
region supported the President, the city was an opposition 
stronghold in the January 5 Presidential election.  This 
election campaign seemed to have not yet begun in earnest. 
At the time, only the United National Movement (UNM) seemed 
to be actively campaigning in Kutaisi.  While most parties 
had offices in Kutaisi and all are putting up candidates for 
the majoritarian seat representing Kutaisi, some have 
nominated residents of Tbilisi for the seat, and a number of 
the parties were not active - and in fact were not even 
present in the city.  Though the UNM candidate is a 
well-known, former Governor from the Shevardnadze period, he 
is somewhat controversial.  Though the opposition would be 
expected to run well in Kutaisi, they seem poised to 
underperform.  End Summary. 
 
The District Election Commission Prepares 
----------------------------------------- 
 
2. (SBU) The opposition and some international observers were 
critical of some elements of the operation of the District 
Election Commission (DEC) during the January election.  To 
address these criticisms, the Government made changes in the 
setup of the DEC.  Under the new regulations, opposition 
parties will have representation at both the precinct (PEC) 
and district level and the process of reporting the results 
and making appeals has been improved.  Avtandil Osepaishvili, 
the new Head of the Kutaisi DEC is widely respected by all of 
the parties that met with us and is viewed as "an honest 
man."  He emphasized that the greatest challenge  facing the 
DEC is gaining the trust of the voters in the electoral 
process.  He stated that opening up the process to more party 
observers has improved the atmosphere, as have improvements 
in the voters' list.  His office still faces serious 
difficulties in training all of the precinct workers before 
the election, though they are trying to use many of the same 
poll workers.  He acknowledges that some problems remain in 
the voters' list, but they have made progress.  He stated 
that even though the public has been able to check and update 
their registration online and by text message, there has been 
little activity.  Ultimately, because the general public is 
not good about reporting deaths or changes in residence it 
falls on the government to try and track down such changes. 
This is a very difficult task in such a short period of time. 
 He is trying to be open to the press and they have actively 
publicized the process for making complaints about 
irregularities and the process for reporting voters' list 
changes.  In general, he observed that the campaign in 
Kutaisi was "quite passive."  Opposition parties complained 
not about the DEC chair, but about some PEC chairs, and about 
persistent problems with the voters' list.  One local 
independent newspaper (Post Scriptum) plans to quiz PEC 
workers about updates in the voting law, to prove that some 
inept PEC members remain on the job. 
 
Opposition Claims Much Abuse, Documents Little 
--------------------------------------------- - 
 
3. (SBU) Emboff met with members of the United National 
Council (UNC) of Opposition and the Traditionalist Party 
blocs at their respective Kutaisi headquarters.  In these 
meetings the general tone was quite rancorous, with LES staff 
even expressing real discomfort at the aggressiveness.  The 
New Rights Party, which ran independently in January, is now 
running in a bloc with the UNC, and its representative alone 
seemed willing to discuss charges and provide specific 
examples, as well as even speculating on the political future 
of Georgia.   Among the most serious charges that were made, 
were claims that opposition supporters had drugs planted on 
them by the police, and that supporters were intimidated by 
ten policemen who photographed an opposition rally.  The 
government was accused of running a systematic campaign of 
terror against the opposition, of intimidating businessmen to 
keep them from supporting opposition candidates, and even of 
being fascists who used their party flag like the Nazis did 
in World War II.  In most of these cases, when pressed for 
examples of terror, or for specifics, the charges largely 
evaporated.  Thus, the charges of drug planting and 
intimidating businessmen were events that occurred in 
November of last year.  When Emboff asked for details 
regarding these businessmen, he was told that they said in 
November that they would support the campaign, but now they 
would not even return a phone call to the Traditionalist 
candidate.  The UNC accused the government of misuse of 
 
TBILISI 00000833  002 OF 002 
 
 &
#x000A;administrative resources and cited as an example the 
Governor's statement on television that one factory may be 
reopened in a few months with new investors and a program for 
temporary jobs for unemployed residents.  The job program, 
however, is a yearly program that has been carried out for 
several years and was planned last fall.  In a case of 
claimed voter intimidation an opposition activist was told 
that she may cause problems for her son (who is a soldier), 
but the person who warned her, was a neighbor and not a 
government supporter.  They claimed that they are prevented 
from mounting an active campaign because their PR manager is 
"afraid" to work full time for their party - but there is no 
evidence of any intimidation in this case.  In the sole 
verifiable case ten policeman photographed the people who 
attended a UNC rally on April 30 in downtown Kutaisi.  No one 
spoke to the police, and no one was threatened in any way - 
but this could be seen as a form of intimidation.  When 
challenged about the use of the term "terror" the UNC 
representative observed that perhaps the word has a stronger 
meaning in the west, but they will continue to refer to this 
as a campaign of terror.  Opposition candidates were 
frustrated that "everyone is forgetting the crisis in 
November," but did not seem to have any active plans to 
engage the general public. 
 
The Media: "People Just Want the Campaign to End" 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
 
4. (SBU) During visits to Post Scriptum (an independent 
newspaper) and (independent) Mega Television Emboff discussed 
the political campaign in Kutaisi and the general state of 
the media, including local government pressure on the media. 
They stated that the campaign has really not begun in Kutaisi 
and that the media has to track down the opposition to find 
out about their planned activities.  Post Scriptum feels that 
they could become a regional newspaper with investment, and 
that by receiving grants from the U.S. Embassy and USAID, as 
well as other western organizations, they have been able to 
remain independent.  In their point of view advertising is 
not fully developed and companies are both unaware of the 
benefits of advertising and afraid to support an independent 
newspaper that is willing to criticize the Government.  Post 
Scriptum was critical of Mamuka Mghvdeladze, the UNM 
candidate for the majoritarian seat in Kutaisi.  According to 
them Mghvdeladze was quite corrupt during the Shevardnadze 
period and has real skeletons in his closet.  Kutaisi was the 
center of Nino Burjanadze's political support, so the media 
as well as the UNC representative speculated that her recent 
pull out from the election would have a continuing effect on 
politics in Kutaisi, and speculated on her political future. 
According to the media, the UNM is now relatively inactive in 
Kutaisi, except for the youth branch of the party, because of 
shake-ups at the national level.  The UNC representative even 
went as far as speculating on a possible Gamkrelidze (New 
Rights) move to join a future coalition if Burjanadze started 
a new centrist party.  Mega TV was focused on Rioni TV, their 
only local competitor, who they accuse of having support from 
Burjanadze's local people, and who they claim receives 
regular financial support form the local government. 
 
5. (SBU) Comment: While it is hard to forecast if the 
election campaign will heat up in Kutaisi, it seems at this 
point as if even in a venue that heavily favors the 
opposition they seem to have little interest or financial 
base in running a serious campaign.  While there are charges 
of malfeasance, which at times border on the hysterical, one 
is more struck by the opposition's passivity and missed 
opportunities than by the government's activity.  End Comment. 
TEFFT

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