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In what has been hailed as a “fair” snap election, the Central Election Commission for the Republic of Georgia officially confirmed the appointment of Mikhail Saakashvili to a second five-year term of office and denounced calls for a second round of voting.
According to official poll results, Mr. Saakashvili and his National Movement party garnered 53.47% of the vote, while Levan Gachedchiladze and his United Opposition party won 25.69%. The third place candidate, Badri Patarkatsishvili, won only 6.5% of the vote.
In response to the results, tens of thousands of Georgians in the capital city of Tbilisi took to the streets, waving pictures of Mr. Gachechiladze, who claimed the election was fraudulent. Following announcement of the results, he and his supporters stormed into the Central Election Commission and accused the chairman of rigging the election.
United Press International reported that challengers filed 29 lawsuits disputing the legitimacy of the election.
Despite Mr. Gachechiladze’s claims, international observers maintain the vote was conducted in a “fair” manner and that Georgians should respect the outcome. A statement issued by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) International Observation Mission said that while the presidential election “was in essence consistent with most international standards for democratic elections, significant challenges were revealed which need to be addressed urgently.”
“Because of the demonstrative competitiveness of this campaign, I perceive this election as a viable expression of the free choice of the Georgian people, but the future holds immense challenges,” said United States congressman and Parliamentary Assembly President Emeritus for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL). Mr. Hastings served as the special co-coordinator of the OSCE short-term election observers.
Mr. Saakashvili, a U.S.-educated lawyer who is considered pro-Western, first gained power in 2003 after the “Rose Revolution,” during which thousands of supporters carrying roses staged peaceful protests demanding the resignation of then-president Eduard Shevardnadze.
Since beginning his term in office, Mr. Saakashvili has been credited with modernizing the Georgian civic system by replacing corrupt politicians and judges. He has been praised by Western nations for ending law enforcement corruption, reorganizing the military to comply with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s specifications for membership, and for seeking acceptance into the European Union.
Although considered a forward thinker, Mr. Saakashvili’s reputation was marred last year during a week-long demonstration in Tbilisi when he shut down a popular television station and law enforcement officials used “violent and excessive force” to disperse the protestors. The non-profit organization Human Rights Watch, along with several others agencies, condemned the acts, claiming officials fired tear gas into the crowd and beat fleeing protestors with police batons.
To redeem his administration, Mr. Saakashvili immediately declared a state of emergency and called for snap elections at the beginning of this year to determine the democratic will of the people.
The White House congratulated Georgian citizens on a successful election, but urged Georgia’s government to “investigate all allegations of irregularities and to work with all political forces to address the challenges and shortcomings identified by international observers,” prior to parliamentary elections expected later this year.
Since Georgia’s independence in 1991, the U.S. State Department reports that it has given $1.7 billion in assistance to aid the country’s democratic process.
Even a team representing the Commonwealth of Independent States, who also helped monitor the election, told the Interfax news agency in a statement that their observers “recorded no obvious offense that would have prevented citizens from freely stating their will.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry, however, was quick to criticize the election, saying it “could hardly be called ‘free and fair.’”
“The campaign was accompanied with the extensive use of administrative resources, unconcealed pressures on opposition candidates, and rigid limits of his access to financial and media resources,” the Ministry said in a statement to the Russian news agency Itar-Tass. “Therefore the indignation of supporters of opposition candidates with the fact that the ex-president has actually announced his victory without waiting for preliminary official results is not surprising. Hasty comments of Western election observers on ‘the triumph of Georgian democracy’ look superfluous, to say the least.”
Georgia—a country of 4.65 million people considered a hotspot because of its strategic positioning on the Black Sea—and Russia have sustained a rocky relationship since the former officially gained its independence after nearly two centuries of Russian rule. Moscow continues to resent Georgia’s Western ties and has imposed economic sanctions on the nation.