“Triumphant, Significantly Challenged” Georgian Elections: “Incumbent, Who Has Not Officially Won Yet, Has Won”

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“It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” –Yogi Berra

On 24 December, the Government released video recordings that appeared to show the head of Mr. Patarkatsishvili’s campaign headquarters plotting a post-election coup. –OSCE Interim Report No. 2 (14-24 December)

“In Georgia today, democracy took a triumphant step,” stated US Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, president emeritus of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. “I perceive this election as a viable expression of the free choice of the Georgian people.”

Pro-Western President Re-elected in Georgia, reports the New York Times.

Like those Yankee fans who leave during the top of the eighth inning to beat the traffic, with the Bombers ahead by one run.

The official results will not be known for three days, reports Bloomberg, which prefers the more cautious “Saakashvili Leads in Georgia Election; OSCE Validates.”

“Set to win” and “set to remain in power” seemed to be the preferred locution of a lot of headline writers. Are the lessons learned from a low, dishonest decade of calling elections and then uncalling them, finally sinking in?

David Bakradze, spokesman for Saakashvili’s campaign, said his team would not start celebrating until official results were announced. The Central Electoral Commission said final results won’t be known for three more days.

The Columbia-educated candidate is not claiming victory yet, but the New York Times is?

Leading the election observer mission is a Democratic congressman from Florida — a state recognized the world over for its track-record of excellence in elections governance.

Unlike Reuters, Bloomberg does not just characterize what the OSCE found. It quotes what the OSCE spokesman actually said, and names him by name.

Even though the election “was, in essence, consistent with most international standards for democratic elections, significant challenges were revealed which need to be addressed urgently,’‘ [Alcee Hastings] said.

A triumph indeed. Doubly qualified and expressed using the Toulmin schema.

As in Kenya, the voters did a great job, but the vote-counting and adjudication of legal challenges were a gabbling mess.

Opposition leaders will question the result.

“We have concrete evidence that on many occasions and in many places, there have been serious violations,” Tina Khidasheli, a leader of the opposition Republican Party, told a news conference yesterday before polls closed.

OSCE Interim Report No. 2 (14-24 December) also validated “some” of those charges, including “credible” evidence of “vote-buying.”

Initial OSCE/ODIHR EOM media monitoring results indicate a lack of balance in the news coverage of most monitored TV stations, with Mr. Saakashvili generally receiving the most coverage. Private Imedi TV appears to be more critical of Mr. Saakashvili than other monitored national broadcasters.

Imedi TV was forced off the air, returned to the air on December 21, and then went off the air again on December 27, after this report was issued.

Did the dead rise from the grave to deliver their verdict on the future of the republic?

Although the CEC announced that some 28,000 deceased persons have been removed from the voter list during door-to-door verification, the EOM observers received numerous allegations across the country that the number of such persons on the list remains high. The CEC, together with the Civil Registry of the Ministry of Justice, launched an initiative under which Civil Registry Offices can be notified about cases of deceased persons remaining in the voter lists, so that a note to that effect can be included in the list.

“Early results” suggested a runoff would be necessary, reported the Christian Scientist Monitor just a few hours ago (not citing a source for that number).

The pro-West president called Saturday’s snap polls after being criticized for authoritarianism. With early results giving him 48 percent of the vote, opponents protest fraud.

El Pais, as I said, reported that the incumbent was NOT, at that point, on the way to obtaining the majority needed to avoid a runoff election:

El apoyo obtenido por el líder georgiano, Mijaíl Saakashvili, en las elecciones presidenciales anticipadas ha caído por debajo del 50% de los votos, lo que implicaría la necesidad de una segunda vuelta, ha informado hoy la Comisión Electoral Central (CEC). Tras ser escrutados los resultados de 819 de las 3.512 mesas electorales, Saakashvili obtenía un 48,55% de los votos, frente a un 26,12% de su rival de la oposición, Leván Gachechiladze.

That was the preliminary result with 819 of 3,512 precincts (23%) reporting.

There seems to be a 4%-5% swing between the “early results” reported by the CSM and El Pais and the “official results” now dominating the newsflow. How come the dueling numbers?

It does not seem mathematically implausible on the face of it. But then again, I majored in poetry, and am sitting on a very distant continent, with only “the Internets” to go on.

With returns from what election officials called nearly all precincts in Saturday’s vote counted, President Mikheil Saakashvili had received 52.8 percent, according to the Central Election Commission, a slim majority that would allow him to avoid a runoff. The main opposition candidate, Levan Gachechiladze, received 27 percent.

He has the largest bloc of support by far.

Could the opposition credibly be expected to band together and back a consensus candidate? Or do they hate each other’s guts? That would be important to know if you were going to actually explain why you were endorsing the election.

Rather than speaking about triumphant but seriously challenged elections. Presumably there is a point where you can safely say that there may have been shennanigans, this was no Saddam, Fidel or Pervez-style 99% orgy of national adoration for the Dear Leader.

In Brazil last year, forcing a runoff — aided by a last-minute media-driven scandal — turned out to the advantage of the incumbent, who beat the pants off the challenger in terms of attracting the support of voters from candidates with smaller bases of support in the first round.

Some members of the opposition, meanwhile, question the OSCE’s track record (CSM):

… one opposition leader, Tina Khidasheli of the moderate Republican Party, says the OSCE has been wrong about Georgian elections in the past. “Look what happened in 2003, when the OSCE said the elections were free and fair,” she says. “We had the Rose Revolution because we knew their results were false.” She chalks up unexplained delays in preparing the final vote tally Sunday as a likely indication that officials are rigging the vote again.

The CEC there, says the EOM, set itself the goal of announcing a result within 24 hours, and had upgraded its servers for this purpose.

Did it? Seems like it did.

Who upgraded the servers? What OS does it run?

Last minute videoscandal:

On 24 December, the Government released video recordings that appeared to show the head of Mr. Patarkatsishvili’s campaign headquarters plotting a post-election coup. In a televised address the same day, Acting President Nino Burjanadze called for calm, pledged that the upcoming election would be democratic, and warned that the government would respond to any attempt to destabilize the country.

Say what?

“Appeared to show”?

Did the OSCE find that it did, or did not, actually show that?

Seems like an awfully important point, especially as it bears on the question of whether the medial mogul is a martyr to freedom of expression or a New Lacerdist, on the model of Marcel Granier of RCTV or Sondhi Lithkomgul in Thailand.

Media monitoring:

The CEC is conducting, for the first time, its own media monitoring through a contracted commercial company Prime Time. On 18 December, the CEC published its first media monitoring results. To date, no official complaints about the media coverage of the election have been filed, and neither the CEC nor the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) have taken action against any broadcasters in this respect. The public TV has aired regular TV program where members of a self-regulatory media council set up by Adam Michnik discussed the coverage of the election.

I cannot seem to discover who else is on that “media council.”

Is that Prime Time a local outsourcing contractor?

Seat of the pants deliberations by the Elections Commission:

Provisions for adjudicating election-related complaints and appeals have proven to lack clarity, and stakeholders express mistrust in the impartiality of courts and election commissions. Initially, the CEC was not deciding on complaints as a collegial body as required by law; instead, the CEC Chairperson was alone responding to complaints via rejection letters. These letters failed to sufficiently state the facts and law on which decisions were based, and were, for the most part, not consistent, legally grounded or in accordance with the spirit of the law.

Youch. A Georgian Ken Blackwell.

Could be worse, though.

Could be the Kenyan elections, where initial statements about the “triumph of Kenyan democracy” were hastily withdrawn with red faces.

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