As an Azerbaijani observer of the Georgian municipal elections, I was first and foremost glad that I had been given the opportunity to participate. This was my first experience as an observer, as previously I had participated only as a voter.
I will try to be objective because Azeris form the largest national minority in Georgia and some violations were reported in majority Azeri-populated regions.
As journalist working in the Marneuli and Bolnisi regions I talked with local people to find out how they felt about the election, how informed they were about the election and about election procedure, and what they want from their Sakrebulos.
The answers were, of course, different. On the cynical end, people said they didn’t expect anything from the government and that voting was unimportant because the winners were predetermined.
Others however said that a lot of positive changes have been instituted since Saakashvili became president. People were also generally optimistic about the new rules surrounding the Sakrebulo elections because they felt that those elected would be able to form a small parliament which would be more informed about the problems faced by local people and thus better equipped to solve them.
From what I observed, it seemed that people were not very well informed about these elections. I think that the reason for this was that Election Day was unexpectedly moved up and thus parties and candidates didn’t have enough time to adequately promote themselves. I also think that the government should have sponsored some programs to educate people about the election. For example, as an Azerbaijani studying in Georgia, I have never seen any TV programs about the elections broadcast in the languages of Georgia’s two largest national minorities: Azeri and Armenian.
Even if Tbilisi TV channels wouldn’t offer airtime to national minority candidates, I think it would still have been effective if local stations had offered these candidates the opportunity to communicate with their non-Georgian speaking constituents.
One positive aspect of the Georgian local government elections – particularly when compared with the last round of elections in Azerbaijan – was that opposition parties were actually elected. I think all societies need to have an opposition if true democracy is to exist. Consequently, I think that the steps made by Georgia in the October 6 elections are very important for the country’s development.
I would like to see a Georgian government where all people, irrespective of their nationality, shall are equal and free to participate in all public events.