Internet Centers Play Groundbreaking Role for Georgian Electorate
With IREX support, training, and access, Georgians are increasingly turning to Internet news websites and forum boards to express their opinions, find information, and communicate directly with candidates. When television coverage was limited during the November 2007 state of emergency, all but one of the IREX-administered Internet centers in Georgia remained open, allowing people to communicate and access the latest information online. During the January 2008 presidential election, citizens interacted with candidates online, gathering information that influenced their vote. In addition to these events, IREX has hosted voter rights campaigns and several other elections-related activities in the country. These events have been made possible through the USAID-funded Internet Access and Training Program (IATP), administered by IREX.
Online Discussion with Presidential Candidates
In early January of this year, more then 140 Georgian citizens communicated directly with presidential candidates in Georgia’s only pre-election online forum of its kind. All candidates were invited and offered equal representation in the online forum. Presidential candidates Davit Gamkrelidze and Levan Gachechiladze participated, responding to questions about their future plans, political views, and foreign and domestic policy priorities. When asked by Ia Inasaridze of Tbilisi about his strategy if elected president, leading opposition candidate Gachechiladze remarked “I plan to strengthen democracy in Georgia…to apply reforms in educational and healthcare spheres and to overcome the social crisis.” The forum influenced the votes of many of the participants. “I decided to vote for Gamkrelidze because he has a vision for Georgia’s economic development,” commented Shalva Maisuradze. The candidates made time for the forum despite very busy campaign schedules and regular appearances on television, utilizing the forums to connect directly with the electorate. Citizens, in turn, took advantage of the opportunity to solicit and receive concrete answers to their specific questions.
Voter Rights Forum
As a result of two IATP-sponsored forums in mid-December with Koki Iunatamishvili, head of New Generation, New Initiatives, and Eka Siradze, a representative of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, citizens from across Georgia learned about their voting rights and ways to protect them during the election period. Iunatamishvili and Siradze introduced forum participants to online resources dedicated to human and voting rights and answered specific questions regarding potential interference in the election. In response to a question from Khashuri journalist Nino Maisuradze about a voter’s name not appearing on the voters’ list, Siradze informed the forum participants that election commission members have no right to forbid such people from voting if they can present either a Georgian citizenship ID card and registration or an IDP card and registration.
Election Laws Informational Session
In a cooperative event with the International Republican Institute (IRI), more than 20 NGO representatives and election observers learned about election law and voting qualification procedures in Georgia at a seminar at the Tbilisi IATP center in late December. IRI representative Dimitri Shashkin also spoke about Georgian political parties, candidates, and election campaign strategies. “It is very important for every Georgian to protect his right to vote, since every Georgian votes because he wants to bring change to his country,” commented Manana Gambashidze from the NGO Gea. “Such seminars raise awareness and highlight the importance of voting.”
Election Freedom and Fairness Forum
A forum entitled “Evaluation of the Presidential Election in Georgia” with Giorgi Chkheidze, the Chairman of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, was hosted by IATP in late January. Citizens and NGOs discussed concerns regarding fairness of the recent election. IATP centers in five cities offered free access and assistance to forum participants, and remote access was also made possible. The speaker discussed some of the irregularities that took place in the election, about which international observers’ concluded: “Although some irregularities occurred, they were not sufficient to change the results of the election.”
IATP Georgia plans to conduct similar events that utilize information technology to support and promote political activism in the period leading up to and during the April 2008 parliamentary elections. Nato Chkheidze of the Central Election Commission of Georgia will speak about the recent presidential election and upcoming parliamentary elections in Georgia in an IATP online forum on February 19. In an IATP-sponsored forum, Minister Temuri Iakobashvili or another high-ranking representative of the Ministry of Conflict Resolution will speak about activities recently undertaken in an effort to resolve the Abkhazian and South Ossetian conflicts.
An informed electorate is essential to a successful political process and IREX is dedicated to giving citizens the tools to better understand all aspects of their political system and provide them with access to the most complete information about all parties involved.
Administered by IREX since 1995, the Internet Access and Training Program (IATP), funded by USAID since 2007, provides free Internet access and training in 10 countries throughout Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Western Eurasia. From major cities to small communities, IATP encourages information sharing, network building, and collaboration among representatives of civil society. Until 2007, IATP was a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State (ECA), and administered by IREX.