Monday, January 14, 2008

Thousands protest Georgian elections

An estimated 100,000 people turned out in the Georgian capital Tbilisi to protest the recent re-election of Mikhail Saakashvili, claiming widespread fraud. The protesters are demanding a runoff election between Saakashvili and opposition leader Levan Gachechiladze who finished second in the voting.

The protesters are claiming that voters were threatened with the loss of their job or other benefits if they did not vote for Saakashvili, that votes were not counted accurately, and that opposition candidates were denied access to the nation’s television stations while the state-run station gave extensive coverage to Saakashvili.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which monitored the election, said that there were a large number of violations, but called the vote a “triumphant step” for democracy in Georgia. It’s strange how an election with a wide array of problems can be looked at as a positive step, especially when OSCE questioned the legitimacy of Russia’s elections last month, citing the same array of problems.

It is important to remember that Saakashvili is staunchly pro-western, while Putin has been critical of recent American and European policy decisions.

The protesters demand for a runoff election seems like a reasonable solution. Saakashvili narrowly avoided a runoff by receiving 53% percent of the vote. Another round of votes, with extensive monitoring to insure equal media access for all candidates and to prevent voter intimidation, would truly be a positive step for democracy in Georgia.
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