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Ajarian Voters Back Georgian Government - 2004-06-21


First results from Sunday's elections in Georgia's autonomous Ajaria Province appear to give the central government clear control over the province for the first time in more than a decade. Early results show two parties aligned with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili have won the most seats in Ajaria's legislature.

TEXT: Local news reports quote Ajaria's regional election commission as saying the Saakashvili Victorious Ajaria Party and the Republican Party both won enough votes to enter the Supreme Council, the provincial parliament.

The two parties were widely favored to lead Sunday's vote, having earlier pledged their allegiance to Georgia's popular president, who helped engineer the recent ouster of Ajaria's long-time authoritarian leader, Aslan Abashidze.

Mr. Abashidze, who for years resisted central rule for Ajaria, was forced out amid massive street protests earlier this year. He is in exile in Moscow.

An Election Commission spokesman (Nestan Nakashidze) said enough voters had turned out to make the election valid. But he provided no specifics as to how the other parties competing for 30 seats in the parliament were doing.

The spoksman said unlike previous elections in Ajaria during the past decade, the voting this time was mainly without incident.

Previous elections under Mr. Abashidze were marred by vote fraud, as well as violence and intimidation against the political opposition.

The results of the latest vote, if confirmed, would appear to give President Saakshivili's central government greater control over the strategically vital region, which he has said will serve to encourage other areas outside central control to again unite with Georgia.

But David Losaberidze, an analyst with the Caucasus Institute for Peace and Democracy in Tbilisi, says the long-term effect of the election results, if borne out, is far from certain.

"The main problem for Georgia is that the government does not have any clear vision about territorial arrangements and division or distribution of power and responsibilities and functions among the levels of government, between local government, regional, and central government. Unfortunately, it is not clear yet," he said. "And everything depends on the central government and how they think [or decide] to arrange this structure."

Mr. Losaberidze also echoed the remarks of other analysts in the region in noting the difficulty in making breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia go the way of Ajaria. But he says Ajaria is without doubt in Mr. Saakashvili's corner. (SIGNED)

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