Accessibility links

Breaking News

OSCE Applauds Positive Developments in Georgia Elections, But Says Serious Criticisms Remain - 2004-03-29

International election observers have commended Georgia for making progress toward the holding of democratic elections, but the observers also say accusations of violations in Adjaria cast a shadow over Sunday's poll.

In a joint news conference held in Tbilisi by the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, spokesman Bruce George said the new authorities in Tbilisi had seized the opportunity to bring Georgia's electoral process into closer alignment with European standards.

"You will see in our report many of those positive developments, such as improvements in the administration of the election process, enhanced professionalism and openness of the CEC," he said, referring to the Central Election Commission. "But we identified major issues of concern and they are serious criticisms that remain."

Among the criticisms Mr. George listed were the government's unwillingness to lower the seven percent threshold to make it easier for the political opposition to compete, and the need to strengthen the independence of election authorities at all levels.

But overall, Mr. George said, substantial progress had been made in improving democratization in the rerun of last year's parliamentary elections, which were annulled over widespread claims of vote-rigging and fraud.

Nearly 500 international observers monitored Sunday's elections, which, according to first results, produced a resounding win for President Mikhail Saakashvili's National Movement - Democratic Reform Front.

In a surprise result, one opposition party, the New Right Bloc, also appears to have reached the seven percent threshold needed to win seats in the new parliament.

But Michael Wygant, who heads the long-term observer mission to Georgia for the Organization For Security and Cooperation in Europe, said the poll was overshadowed by events in the autonomous province of Adjaria.

Mr. Wygant said the main problem in Adjaria was the failure of its authorities to create and guarantee conditions necessary for a free and democratic campaign environment.

"Unfortunately, intimidation and violence targeted against opposition supporters, non-governmental organizations, election officials, and journalists occurred with a higher intensity and frequency than in previous elections," he reported. "And this means that a serious democratic deficit exists in Adjaria."

But Mr. Wygant said overall Georgia has taken a step a forward toward democratic elections and produced, what he described as, a good result.

The returns, if borne out by final, official results, should allow President Saakashvili and his allies to carry through with his ambitious reform program for Georgia virtually unhindered.