Sandra Roelofs, the opposition mayoral candidate in Zugdidi and the wife of former president of Georgia Saakashvili, has already announced non-recognition of the results
By-elections were held in several regions of Georgia yesterday on 19 May.
In the Mtatsminda district of Tbilisi, voters cast their ballots for a new MP to replace Salome Zurabishvili, who left her seat vacant as she became president of Georgia in November 2018.
Mayoral by-elections took take place in five cities: Marneuli, Zugdidi, Khulo, Zestfoni and Chiatura.
The Central Electoral Commission of Georgia has announced the preliminary results of the vote. Ruling party and pro-government candidates swept the vote everywhere except in the Mtatsminda district of Tbilisi.
According to the data:
• In Mtatsminda, 41% of the voters voted for the candidate from the government Lado Kakhadze, and 37% voted for the opposition candidate Shalva Shavgulidze. Here, most likely, a second round of elections will be held to elect an MP.
• In the election of the mayor of Zugdidi, the candidate from the ruling party Gega Shengelia received 54% of the votes, while the opposition candidate Sandra Roelofs received 43%.
• In Marneuli, the candidate for mayor from the ruling party, Zaur Dargalli received 79%, while two opposition candidates Agit Mstafayev and Akmamed Imamkuliev received 11% and 7%, accordingly.
• In Zestafoni, Khulo and Chiatura, pro-government candidates also received more than half of the votes.
Elections in Zugdidi are viewed both by the authorities and the opposition as a testing grounds before the parliamentary elections of 2020.
Western Georgia, Sandra Roelofs, clashes
The mayoral elections in Zugdidi attracted the most attention, largely because ex Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s wife, Sandra Roelofs, was in the running as a candidate from the united opposition.
“We do not recognize their victory, their election. It was not an election, it was a joint special operation of state security and criminals”, said Sandra Roelofs after the ruling Georgian Dream party announced its victory in advance.
She urged her supporters to continue the fight.
As expected, the greatest incidents happened namely there.
After the polling stations closed, when the counting of votes began, several more incidents occurred in Zugdidi.
In particular, Tina Bokuchava, a member of parliament from the opposition United National Movement party, was dragged out from the polling station by police because she could not present her ID.
The police also expelled crews of the opposition TV company Rustavi 2 from several polling stations.
Many areas where the counting of votes was going on were surrounded by police.
Nevertheless, Sandra Roelofs announced that she won in most areas and expected a victory in the first round.
However, the headquarters of the ruling Georgian Dream party said that their candidate for mayor Gega Shengelia was “obviously winning.”
Mayoral candidates from the ruling party in other cities also celebrated their victory.
A large cake with the image of Zaur Dargalli, the Georgian Dream candidate in Marneuli, was brought to his headquarters. In this photo taken by Radio Liberty, the cake has already been cut.
No significant violations
As at 20:00, the voting procedure at the elections had taken place without significant violations, said the head of the NGO Association of Young Lawyers, Sulkhan Saladze.
“However, the tendency of the first half of the day has been preserved, which is reflected in the control over the will of voters in Zugdidi and the mobilization of coordinators and supporters in all other constituencies from polling stations,” said Saladze.
16.00, 19 May 2019
The leader of the united opposition of Georgia, Grigol Vashadze, has accused the government of “mobilizing criminals”.
Vasadze says voter bribery was recorded in the village of Ruhi in western Georgia.
Also, he said, “the criminals started beating people in the village of Koki, 50 Bandar-logs were noticed at the 18th station, which indicates the beginning of a special operation”.
“We have five thousand observers, more than 200 live cameras, more than 300 temporary and stationary cameras – we will not forgive a single incident, we will resort to all forms of protest! Non-governmental organizations and the OSCE will make such an assessment, that the conclusions made after the presidential election will seem like a child’s lullaby”, Grigol Vashadze told reporters.
Several incidents between members of the opposition and the ruling party have already occurred in Zugdidi.
One of the largest conflicts flared up due to the fact that the opposition was trying to prevent the work of the ruling party’s so-called “coordinators”, who calculated how many voters came to the polling stations.
The opposition claims the ‘coordinators’ were bribing voters.
Due to incidents during the electoral process, the police detained five people.
“Five people were detained for administrative violations in the cities of Zugdidi, Koki, Zestafoni. These are representatives of various political parties, including the ruling party. Most have already been released”, said Deputy Interior Minister Natia Mezvrishvili.
The head of the organization International Society for Fair Elections And Democracy Mikhail Benidze noted that most violations have been recorded in Zugdidi and Marneuli.
“At several polling stations in Zugdidi and Marneuli, the rights of observers were limited. In some areas there was a physical confrontation and unrest. In most districts, in the immediate vicinity of polling stations, there is also a mobilization of party activists, who in some cases register voters who came to the polling station”, said Benidze.
Why Sandra Roelofs, and why Zugdidi?
Roelofs’ campaign slogan was “Victory begins in Zugdidi.”
The opposition, primarily Saakashvili’s United National Movement, views the election of the mayor of Zugdidi as a general rehearsal before the parliamentary elections of 2020.
The UNM said the defeat of the ruling Georgian Dream party in Zugdidi would be the beginning of the end of the power of the Georgian Dream and its leader, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Saakashvili’s party nominated the former first lady in Zugdidi not for the first time.
In the parliamentary elections in 2016, she ran for parliament Zugdidi and won 46% of the votes in the first round. However, following the decision of the party that declared the election results illegitimate, she refused to continue the race in the second round.
Earlier, Saakashvili’s wife repeatedly participated in election campaigns in the Samegrelo region, the center of which is Zugdidi. Before the presidential elections in January 2008, she even sang a song in the Mingrelian language.
The Samegrelo region has traditionally supported Saakashvili and his party: in all previous elections they received more votes in this region than in others.
Election tensions and accusations against the authorities
Virtually the entire election campaign of the mayor of Zugdidi has taken place in an atmosphere of tension and constant clashes between political opponents.
On May 14, a group of supporters of the ruling party attacked Sandra Roelofs, her supporters and journalists while recording a TV programme.
One of the attackers was subsequently detained.
This incident in Zugdidi was preceded by the release of secret footage, in which a member of the Georgian Dream and a deputy of the Zugdidi Sakrebulo Gia Danelia says that he and other local leaders were instructed to bribe voters at any cost, and that whoever will not be amenable to a bribe and should be intimated.
The opposition accuses the authorities of total intimidation and pressure on voters of both state and private organizations. The opposition says the staff of election commissions is guilty of election violations and preparing to falsify the results.
On May 18, several individuals tried to intimidate opposition activists by firing shots. The gunmen were detained.
On May 18, journalists from opposition TV company Rustavi 2 reported that they had discovered officials from other cities who had changed their place of registration several days before the election, and had registered in Zugdidi.
The authorities have mobilized police special forces in the city.
Journalists of the local TV company Odishi captured on film special police units being brought into the city.
Этой ночью. Съемки Odishi News.Если б они так же охраняли население на линии оккупации, убиство Отхозория не произошло бы… Ведь могут блюсти, когда хотят!
Posted by Dimitri Kipiani on პარასკევი, 17 მაისი, 2019