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Opposition to contest election result, plan hunger strike

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, January 8

As the Central Election Commission chairman affirmed that incumbent Mikheil Saakashvili was on his way to an outright victory, the main opposition parties vowed to contest the results as rigged.

The Saakashvili campaign was celebrating its victory as early as Saturday evening, after an exit poll suggested Saakashvili had won without a runoff by capturing an outright majority of the votes that day.

“I think this election was successfully held, and Mikheil Saakashvili will be Georgia’s president,” Saakashvili campaign spokesman Davit Bakradze told journalists after the exit poll was released.

The Central Election Commission’s preliminary results have since borne out the exit poll’s projected win for Saakashvili.

But the opposition claims the vote was rigged. The day after the election, several thousand opposition supporters rallied at central Tbilisi’s Rike neighborhood.

“No steps back,” opposition coalition member Gia Tortladze vowed. Coalition candidate Levan Gachechiladze claimed he was the real winner.

The peaceful crowd dispersed after a few hours, with opposition leaders saying they will call their supporters back onto the streets today, after breaking for Orthodox Christmas.

They soon called off a rally planned for today, instead spending the day publicly confronting the CEC and meeting with international election observers. Gachechiladze has since declared a hunger strike in front of the public broadcaster, demanding more attention from the country's television networks.

Opposition leaders also suggest they will seek for 100 000 votes, or about 5 percent of the total cast, to be thrown out.

Republican Tina Khidasheli, a leader of the opposition coalition, pointed out what she says are suspicious results from some precincts, as well as the slew of technical problems noticed by observers. At least two polling places in Akhalkalaki, according to early results on the Central Election Commission’s website, registered 100 percent of the vote for Saakashvili.

CEC chair Levan Tarkhnishvili told journalists he did not expect the irregularities to involve enough votes to ultimately affect the result of the election.

Saakashvili, meanwhile, is secure in the support of his international allies. The US State Department’s top envoy for the region, Matthew Bryza, urged all parties to accept the election results gracefully.

“If the experts determine that the election was not rigged,” Bryza told Reuters over the weekend, “then there is absolutely no justification, and it would be absolutely undemocratic, to claim otherwise.”