(Washington, DC--September 11, 2003) Democratic activists from the Southern Caucasus region predict that the current level of stability in their countries can only be maintained if the candidates win fairly in upcoming elections. Speaking to a RFE/RL audience last week, the leaders of several non-governmental organizations from the region agreed that only candidates who win their elections fairly will have the legitimacy and public support to solve the problems of economic development facing Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Eldar Izmailov, the Director of the Baku, Azerbaijan-based NGO "For the Sake of Civil Society," said that if the winner of the15 October presidential election wins fairly, then the "winner could protect the people [of Azerbaijan] from future turmoil." With 12 candidates running, including incumbent President Heidar Aliev and his son Ilham, Izmailov said that "if the election monitors pay close attention to the process" he has "hope" that the government party will not achieve a "well-planned scenario," which can only result in the "complete destabilization" of Azerbaijan within six months.
Ghia Nodia, the Chairperson of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development said that "the political elite of Georgia have been preparing for the upcoming elections since 2000, for the single reason that the successor to the current President Eduard Shevardnadze will alter the political system itself." Shevardnadze has said that he will leave office when his term expires in April 2005. Nodia said that parliamentary elections in late September "will be the primary for the presidential election." He noted that people appear "to want change because the current government is unpopular (an approval rating of only 10 percent)," yet people "want stability because the last time there was change there was civil war" and therefore "people don't want a repeat."
Alexander Lomaia, Executive Director of the Open Society Georgia Foundation, called on the United States to stay engaged in the Georgian political system, "closely watch" and note all "irregularities," and use "various tools" -- not just quiet diplomacy -- to help the electoral process be free and fair. Lomaia noted that a White House statement earlier this year on the upcoming elections in Georgia was helpful, and that another statement was needed to make clear that the "U.S. will not tolerate voter intimidation." Lomaia expressed concern that the formula brokered with U.S. assistance for the new Central Election Commission is flawed, because the nine seats given to the opposition were not filled by any members of the "real democratic opposition."
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