Initial results from the Georgian October 8 parliamentary elections have been announced. Ruling party “Georgian Dream” won with 48.65% of the vote, with the “United National Movement” (27.12%) and the Alliance of Patriots (5%) following behind.
Taking into consideration the fact that almost 240,000 Azerbaijanis live in Georgia, and also the fact that Azerbaijan and Georgia share a strategic partnership, our publication could not fail to report on the elections to Georgia’s highest legislative body.
Journalist Gocha Khundadze looked into the twists and turns of the election as concerns Azerbaijanis in the recent elections.
In South – East Georgia, in the region of Kvemo Kartli, where Azerbaijanis live in tightly – knit, large communities, elections have always been less than major events, and have passed without any major excesses. In the past 25 years of Georgia’s independence, ethnic Azerbaijanis which make up majorities in the municipalities of Marneuli (83.1%), Dmanisi (66.8%) and Bolnisi (66%), voters have chosen candidates from the ruling party, almost without exception.
However, the situation has lately begun to change. Two years ago at municipal elections, some competition already appeared, and in this year’s parliamentary elections, the competition was so hot that at one of the voting stations there were even fist fights.
Stand off in Marneuli
“In the village of Qizil – Ajlo of Marneuli region the situation got hot real quick in the second half of the day”, says the executive director of the civic movement, “Multi-national Georgia”, Alexandra Kalatozishvili.
According to her, in the building of a rural school where a voting station had been set up, a series of verbal fights took place between representatives of the ruling party “Georgian Dream” and opposition party, “United National Movement”. Party members from “State for the People” later joined in the word – brawl. The head of the voting station later called the police, however the situation got out of control. In the courtyard of the voting station, a large fight broke loose, in which more than 200 local residents were involved. There was an attempt to gain entry into the voting station and seize the ballot box. However, they were presented by police authorities, which further aggravated the crowd. As a result of the incident the voting process was shut down and not all voters were able to cast their ballots. Five policemen, one of which was an employee of the local police department, Ramin Ismayilov, was taken to the hospital for severe injuries.
The voting station in the village of Qizil – Ajlo falls under the auspices of Marneuli voting precinct No. 36, where the overwhelming majority of the population consists of ethnic Azerbaijanis. Where opposition parties put forward ethnic Azerbaijanis for candidates, the ruling party put forward ethnic Georgians.
“This game was put forward by the opposition and the powers gave into it. It was a dangerous, risky game, because from the very beginning it could have tainted the elections with the element of race and ethnicity”, said executive director of NGO “Foundation of Civil Integration”, Zaur Khalilov.
Khalilov claimed that the population in Qizil – Ajlo came out in defense of its voice and vote, and didn’t allow themselves to be manipulated, however the measures they used were, lightly put, not the best. He did put forward his concern for the second round of voting, when Ahmed Imamquliyev from the United National Movement and Tengiz Naveriani of Georgian Dream would compete head to head.
Feast at the polling stations
Other violations noted by observers at polling stations in Kvemo Kartli were typical for Georgia and were of a procedural character. However, there are several incidents worthy of mention.
In the village of Chapala of Bolnisi region, the deputy head of the local executive authority, Longinoz Hasanov stormed into the voting station and demanded members of the election commission to erase the number “5” which had been written on the reception table of the station – 5 is the voting number of the party, United National Movement.
In the village of Tekalo (Marneuli municipality), identification cards were not requested of local voters. One of the individuals responsible for registration, Nirali Qarajayev, responded to this admonishment thus: “Why do we need ID cards, when I know all of them!?”
In the same village, some men reportedly demanded that they be able to enter the voting cabin together with their wives. Their response: “This is my wife. I will go wherever I want with her.”
In the village of Keshalo, also in the municipality of Marneuli, the deputy chairman of the voting commission, Qazanter Aliyev personally lead his acquaintances, relatives and friends into voting booths.
And a rather curious incident took place in the village of Dzveli Kveshi of Bolnisi region. When observers arrived on site, they noticed that voters were crowded into the building’s corridor. The room where the polling station was situated was locked, because workers had decided to “break for lunch.” And what’s worse, during lunch, a ceiling leak dampened a stack of voting ballots. The process of drying them out took up too much time, and was the ultimate reason for shutting down the voting process in the precinct.
Executive director of the Center for Human Rights Aleko Tskitishvili believes that such violations are a result of the weak and low qualifications of the workers of polling stations. Many of them, according to him, are unaware of proper procedure protocol, which created a number of issues and provoked conflict.
Results of the elections in Kvemo Kartli
Elections into the one-house, 150 – seat parliament of Georgia were carried out carried out by a mixed system – 77 deputies were elected from party lists, and 73 from individual candidates from specific voting districts across Georgia. Ethnic Azerbaijanis were represented in all the candidate lists of major Georgian parties. In total, 23 ethnic Azerbaijanis put forward their candidacy.
According to the results of the elections, the majority of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Kvemo – Kartli — which had 207 voting stations — voted for Georgian Dream (43.4%). United National Movement received 36.3% of the ethnic Azerbaijani vote.
In the parliamentary elections of 2012, 3 Azerbaijani MPs were elected. This year, there will be at least 4 Azerbaijanis in parliament. Mahir Darziyev (Georgian Dream) and Azer Suleymanov (United National Movement) were reelected to their parliamentary positions. New faces in parliament will include Ruslan Hajiyev and Savalan Mirzoyev, representing the ruling party. Another Azerbaijani, Ahmed Imamquliyev (UNM) has a chance to win in the second round of voting.
Quality over quantity
“The recent parliamentary elections in Georgia were unique for the Azerbaijanis in the history of the independent country”, says Zaur Khalilov, according to whom the large number of ethnic Azerbaijani candidates, the relative active participation of voters, the competition – friendly atmosphere and the appearance of the first female candidate, Samira Ismayilova, all point to development in Kvemo Kartli. Khalilov further believes that ethnic Azerbaijani MPs should recognize that they are part of a national parliament, dealing with
questions, and that their activities as MPs should not be limited to small ethnicity – specific questions.
“What’s most important is the quality, not the quantity, of our MPs. It is for now too early to judge how effective and useful they will be in parliament. But the fact that local elections promise to be heated can already be assumed, and the elections of October 8 are the proof of that.” says Khalilov.