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World January 29, 2008
 
The Hand that Counts the Vote
By Kirill Pankratov Browse author
 
Page 2 of 3
 

There can be only one explanation of this phenomenon: In about 5 to 10% of the districts the results were purely artificial, with nearly 100% turnout and nearly 100% vote rubber-stamped for the United Russia. Most of these statistical anomalies occurred in backward ethnic republic and enclaves where separatist activity is still hot, such as Chechnya and Ingushetia. It is obvious what happened there: the local elites were given pretty much a free reign to steal and misrule, as long as they deliver votes for the ruling party. And many of them don't know how to be subtle about it. So they massively overdid it to the point where it was obviously stolen.

There was another obvious anomaly: the turnout numbers in many districts were very close to multiples of 5%: 65, 70, 75 and so on. It was truly despicable: these fraudsters were so crude that they didn't even have the brainpower to mix it up, instead sticking with easy 5% intervals.

Ironically, just after the Russian election there was another one – the presidential vote in Georgia. Remember "the bright spot in the post-Soviet space"? The "Western-leaning," "courageous reformer" and all the other accolades showered on President Saakashvili in the Western media?

So when push came to shove, were Georgia's elections really all that different from Russia's?

Saakashvili says: count this, biatch!

The presidential elections in Georgia were originally scheduled for the end of 2008, but circumstances changed. Saakashvili's popularity plunged throughout 2007 due to rising prices and rampant government corruption. On September 28, Tbilisi was shaken by a massive demonstration of over 50,000 protesters against the government, the largest in its recent history--much larger than the crowds during the Rose Revolution.

One of the main opposition figure - the former defense minister Irakli Okruashvili – was promptly arrested and charged with treason and corruption. Shortly before his arrest, he accused the Saakashvili regime of massive theft and mismanagement. After being "worked on" in prison (remember, "waterboarding is not a torture" and other Bushworld wisdoms) and having his family reportedly threatened, Okruashvili recanted and issued a bizarre and unnerving television statement, like something you'd expect from North Korea, confessing that he was wrong and Mishiko (Saakashvili) was a great president.

A few days later Okruashvili managed to slip out of the country, after which he confirmed that his earlier statements were made under duress. He repeated his earlier accusations against Saakashvili. Later, in Berlin, Okruashvili was arrested following a request by the Georgian government, which is now trying to extradite and imprison him again.

This is oddly reminiscent to what Putin did in 2000 to Vladimir Gusinsky – the oligarch who controlled the opposition channel NTV. Only Gusinsky had it easier – after transferring his shares of the heavily indebted Media-Most holding to Gazprom's control, he was let out of jail and out of the country, and hasn't been bothered much since then (in fact he still has some media assets in Russia). Okruashsvili, on the other hand, is still pursued by Georgia with much greater vindictiveness.

The reaction in the Western media was telling: at most a few scant articles expressing mild concern and disappointment with their hero Saakashvili, totally unlike their reporting on Gusinsky, who, in the eyes of Western journalists, went overnight from a dirty manipulator to the Great Defender of freedom of speech in Russia.

But back to our cute little Georgia. The September 30th protests in the capital Tblisi were followed by even larger demonstrations on November 2, with more than 100 thousands protesters demanding Saakashvili's resignation and new elections. The demonstration was brutally crushed by the police (wearing bizarre "Mickey Mouse" gas masks, and using LRAD sound weaponry imported from America). The protesters were gassed, beaten, and showered with cold water. Many were arrested. The crackdown was incomparably harsher than whatever the OMON did against the smallish opposition demonstrations by "Other Russia" in 2007. When Garry Kasparov was briefly arrested, the Western media went into a hysterial condemntation orgy against "Putin's fascist regime." In case of Georgia, it was at most calm disapproval and schoolmarmish tsk-tsk finger-waiving.


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