Georgians vote in polarized elections
Opposition supporters celebrate what they call the victory of Georgian Dream opposition bloc in central Tbilisi, late on October 1, 2012. AFP/Getty Images
October 1st, 2012
04:26 PM ET

Georgians vote in polarized elections

By Jill Dougherty

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 (18 Responses)
  1. Alex279

    It so funny to read this article by Jill Dougherty who is desperately trying to pretend that "it is not over yet..." or "too close to call" or "exit polls are partisan and have huge margin of error" blah blah blah....

    The reality is that IT IS OVER. SAAKASHVILI LOST. What comes ahead for him is a few month of lame-duck period of his presidency when he can still enjoy immunity from prosecution, then resignation, criminal charges, lengthy trial, conviction, prison term under less than democratic conditions, and divorce.

    This is it. End of the road for this puppet.

    October 2, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  2. Tamara

    Nikusha, future is bright, You just need to get there and by hard work you can get anywhere. Believe!

    October 2, 2012 at 11:55 am | Reply
    • njnikusha

      Tamara i do wish bright future but people have to work for it and they surely have to snap out and start living American dream which means a hard work, instead of Georgian which stands for someone rebuilding a country from ground zero for them

      October 2, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Reply
  3. Tamara

    Agree with George Patton. I think Georgians have never really asked themselves why they need to join Nato. I think it is just a fad :) Georgians, stop choosing between Russia and US and be yourselves, do your own thing. It might be harder without donor money (devil;s money: ) but it will get better if you do your own thing.

    October 2, 2012 at 11:54 am | Reply
  4. njnikusha

    @George Patton. If opposition embraces Russia its a whole new level of Demon. So either way i don't see a bright future for my homeland and for my people who have suffered immensely :(

    October 2, 2012 at 12:05 am | Reply
  5. George Patton

    There is an old Irish saying, "if you shake hands with the devil, you may not get it back". That's why the current leader Mikhiel Sakashvilli needs to be defeated since he wants to bring Georgia into the NATO alliance, in other words, "shake hands with the devil". Let's all hope that this never takes place!!!

    October 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      Thank you, George. How true that is and I coundn't have stated it any better!

      October 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Reply

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