October 1st, 2012
06:19 PM ET

Georgia opposition may be premature in declaring victory– observers

By Jill Dougherty, CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent

Independent international observers in the Republic of Georgia described the country's parliamentary election Monday as peaceful with no significant violence but warned that the opposition may be prematurely declaring victory.

Lorne Craner, president of the International Republican Institute, a U.S. congressionally funded democracy support organization, spoke with CNN by telephone at 11 p.m. Tbilisi, Georgia, time, as Georgia's Central Election Commission was counting votes. As he spoke, the sound of honking horns and celebration by the opposition was audible in the background.

"From what I have seen," Craner said, "it's been very calm and peaceful, and it appears that there were no significant problems on election day. There was a blizzard of complaints but nothing that was systemic where you could look at election complains and say, 'Here's how someone is trying to steal the election.'"

Opposition forces are citing exit polls, but Craner said there "was no independent exit poll here, which was an important missing element, unfortunately."

Craner, who has observed polling globally for many years, said, in Georgia, he had seen something he had never seen before: "murky funding sourcing, at best" for international observers, for exit polling and for "parallel vote tabulations" for representative samples.

 "There was so much money sloshing around," Craner said, "that they were bringing in privately-funded observer groups and using privately funded exit polling ... and it just stirred up people's emotions here in an already polarized election. And that's something I wouldn't hope to see in the future anywhere else."

Both sides – the party currently in power, the United National Movement, and the opposition coalition called the "Georgian Dream," headed by billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili – have poured large amounts of money into the election.

The government's Central Electoral Commission has been professional and independent, however, said Craner. "There's no question in my mind ... the election commission can be relied upon."

"But the question is will everyone stay calm when the results come out," he added.

The commission is counting the votes on Monday night and is expected to release preliminary results, at least, on Tuesday.

 Another international official observing the election who spoke with CNN by phone without direct attribution because of the sensitivity of the issue, agreed that the claim of victory by the opposition is premature.

"There are two distinct elections here," this official explained. Each Georgian was given two ballots when they entered the voting location. One was for a proportional vote for 77 out of 150 seats in parliament. The other was a single-member vote for 73 parliamentary seats.

"The proportional vote is a party list vote. It's not district by district," the official explained. The other is a majoritarian vote. So you could win the proportional race and be a minority in the parliament if you lose the majoritarian vote."

Exit polls, this official said, "vary dramatically." Some are funded by partisan interests and have a "huge margin of error."

Further complicating things, the official added, the government now agrees that the opposition has won the proportional race but no one knows by what percentage.

Counting the votes is potentially the most contentious part of the contest, this official warns, and the process is not yet complete.

How opposition supporters, who have been told they "won the election" will react when the final vote is tabulated is still a question mark.

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Jannani

    CNN is pathetic.

    Mikheil Saakashvili says opposition led by Bidzina Ivanishvili will form new government after defeating UNM in parliamentary poll

    October 2, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Reply
  2. Tamara

    With this peaceful elections Georgia stepped closer to democracy.
    Now, Georgians need to ask themselves, do they really need Nato, why, and stop choosing between Russia and US. A true Georgian government needs to be formed which will be focused on not who to allign with so that donor money comes streaming in or to get other dividends, but how to dig the country out of poverty with their very own hands. And...they should also keep in m ind that Georgia is closer to Russia than it is to its overseas friend. Keep that in mind. That fact does matter a lot. Please, new government ... a more balanced politics abroad... !

    October 2, 2012 at 11:50 am | Reply
  3. George Datukashvili

    What I saw yesterday, as a common voter, was an unprecedented voters' activity (for Georgia). What I saw in past several weeks, as a common citizen of Georgia, was an unprecedented wave of hope for the future. I may not have comprehensive information about what is going on during vote count but I do have both eyes and my eyes tell me that Saakashvili and his clique are as good as gone! NATO or not NATO, Russia or not Russia, – this is not for anyone but Georgians to decide. In my humble opinion, any hope of Georgia becoming a member of the Alliance any time soon is, by far, more premature than "Georgian opposition... in declaring victory"! I would like to draw CNN attention to just one small fact: last night in the town of Khashuri (some 115km to the West of Tbilisi) an unidentified person walked out of the polling station carrying a big box! He was escorted by a group of armed policemen who fired couple of shots of rubber bullets. My guess is that the box contained something that was not candy bars. Hmmm, what could be in those boxes???

    With utmost respect!,

    George Datukashvili

    October 2, 2012 at 5:42 am | Reply
  4. Joshua Miller

    This article is very premature – look at the retults of exit polls which were sponsored by Saakashvili's government : they are losing even in them. Official results show that they are currently losing 54-41 and most of Tbilisi in not counted – and in Tbilisi, bigger city, they are losing 75%-25%.

    I hope next election related articles will not be as biased as this one.

    October 1, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Reply
  5. njnikusha

    @Travis as a Georgian myself personally i don't think if Georgia has a chance to join NATO any time soon. Russia's influence in Caucasus is still present and it might grow even stronger as Russia views Obama as a weak President. Besides NATO doesn't need another country with separatist regions and ongoing tensions. Opposition has claimed a victory but President's supporters strongly believe that country might end up under Russia's direct influence which is definitely a very bad news for USA.

    October 1, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Reply
  6. Travis

    Let's just hope that the opposition wins as the last thing the world needs is another worthless NATO member. The current leader wants to drag Georgia into this most unholy alliance and thus giving the right-wing thugs in Washington an even greater say in European affairs.

    October 1, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Reply

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