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Georgian Opposition Leader Calls Election Results 'Illegal'

Official tally favors pro-government parties, setting the stage for more protests.

November 21, 2003|David Holley | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — A key opposition leader in the former Soviet republic of Georgia denounced the announcement Thursday of official election results favorable to pro-government parties as a "coup" engineered by President Eduard A. Shevardnadze.

"These results are illegitimate, and the parliament is illegal," Mikheil Saakashvili told a televised news conference in Tblisi, Georgia's capital. "This parliament should not and will not survive if we are to have a future. This is usurpation of power. It is a coup by the dictator Shevardnadze."

Setting the stage for a fresh standoff in the streets after more than two weeks of almost daily opposition rallies, Shevardnadze scheduled the new parliament's first session for Saturday.

Saakashvili and other top opposition leaders said they would try to block it from convening and would not take their seats if it did. Shevardnadze, 75, is expected to address the session.

"What we are planning is not to allow parliament to convene," Saakashvili said. "We will fight to the end to make sure that, if force and weapons are used to allow this parliament to convene, it will not be able to operate.

"This is not a Georgian parliament. It is an entity created through violence, which has nothing to do with the will of Georgian voters."

The Nov. 2 election was criticized by foreign monitors as flawed by serious irregularities. Opposition protesters, charging that Shevardnadze stole the election, have demanded that he resign.

"Since this parliament was not elected by the Georgian people, we are not going to participate in the work of this parliament," incumbent Speaker Nino Burjanadze said in remarks broadcast on Russian television. "This is a parliament appointed by the president. We are not going to decorate this parliament in the role of appointed opposition."

Announcing the official tabulation, Central Election Commission head Nana Devdariani defended the election to reporters.

"The election's results are already known, and the country should return to its normal life," Devdariani said. "Despite violations, the parliamentary elections took place. They were much more transparent and objective than the previous vote."

Shevardnadze said at a government meeting Wednesday that "if the opposition powers refuse to participate in the new government, this will not cause the country to fall apart."

The Central Election Commission, in announcing final results Thursday for 150 seats allocated according to the percentage of votes won by parties, said the pro-Shevardnadze bloc, For a New Georgia, finished first with 38 seats and the allied Revival Union took 33 seats. Four opposition parties also won seats: Saakashvili's National Movement took 32, Labor took 20, the Burjanadze Democrats took 15 and New Rights took 12.

Final results were not announced for 75 seats that are filled by majority voting in districts. Results for most are expected soon, but a second round of voting will be held in some districts. The parliament has a total of 235 seats, including 10 that are frozen because they represent secessionist areas that have been out of government control since the early 1990s.

Opposition leaders fear that the official results announced Thursday are favorable enough to Shevardnadze that he will be able to control the new parliament. They claim that an honest vote count would have given opposition parties firm control.

"We have no more illusions left," Saakashvili declared. "President Shevardnadze has turned into Dictator Shevardnadze, so any country that supports him will risk its own reputation, its international authority, because it is a sin to support dictators who stand on violence, on such rigged elections, on lies and ignoring the will of their own people."

Shevardnadze won respect in the West for his role, as Soviet foreign minister, in helping to end the Cold War. But his domestic critics charge that he has run a corrupt and ineffective government during his 11-year rule in Georgia. His second term ends in 2005, at which time current law would require him to step down.

At the price of further tarnishing his democratic credentials, Shevardnadze appeared to have won greater control of state-run television following the resignation Wednesday of its chairman, Zaza Shengelia, who objected to complaints from the president about the coverage of the current protests. Shevardnadze appointed the chairman's deputy as his replacement.

At a government session Wednesday, "Shevardnadze harshly criticized the management of the TV corporation, saying that 'the first channel assumed a neutral and not pro-government position in this difficult political situation,' " the Russian news agency Interfax reported.

Shengelia responded that he believed state television should not cover events "only from the government's perspective."

Koka Kandiashvili, the host of a popular political talk show, announced live Wednesday night that he was suspending the program until it could be resumed "without tips and pressure both from the authorities and the opposition."

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