West Will Scrutinize Georgian Elections

APGeorgian opposition activists wearing masks reading "You cannot rig the elections!" ahead of the vote on Sunday.
TBILISI, Georgia — The West will closely watch Georgia's parliamentary election Wednesday for signs the country is committed to democracy, four months after Mikheil Saakashvili won a presidential vote described as flawed.

Some Western countries questioned Saakashvili's democratic credentials after he sent riot police to crush anti-government demonstrators last November. A mixed report from monitors at January's election only partially repaired his tarnished image.

"The democratic conduct of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Georgia … is crucial to restoring public confidence in the democratic process," a delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe wrote last month.

In January's presidential election, which Saakashvili won with more than 52 percent, the head of the Western observation mission described the vote as flawed though an accurate representation of the will of the people.

But the opposition said the presidential election had been rigged and was unfair.

"We have the support of people, while the ruling party uses all its power and the state budget for its vote," Levan Gachechiladze, head of the main opposition coalition, said ahead of Wednesday's vote.

In an interim report released Friday, the main Western election monitoring group said it had received allegations of intimidation, illegal campaigning by officials and the use of administrative resources to support Saakashvili.

"Several allegations of intimidation could be substantiated," the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's election monitoring body said.

"[But] the president and the Interior Ministry have issued strong statements calling on public officials and law enforcement bodies not to interfere in the election process."

Opinion polls suggest that Saakashvili's party may also struggle to retain its majority, although it will almost certainly remain the biggest party in the 150-seat parliament.