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Exit Poll to be Held, Despite Government Opposition

The U.S. polling firm Global Strategy Group was contracted by the Rustavi 2 broadcasting company to conduct exit polls on November 2. The contract was signed with financial support of the Eurasia Foundation, the British Council and Open Society Georgia Foundation.

The authorities and the pro-presidential election bloc leaders expressed fears that publication of the exit polls might lead to instability, recalling the Azerbaijani elections. Meanwhile, the opposition claims that pro-governmental parties fear their low popularity to be exposed.

At the presentation of the project on October 28 representatives of the Global Strategy Group said that the exit polls will be conducted in 500 precincts and among 23,000 voters around Georgia in accordance with the international standards.

Erosi Kitsmarishvili, the President of Rustavi 2 broadcasting company, says the company decided to commission exit polls to a foreign polling firm in order to avoid doubts regarding the poll results.

The Global Strategy Group is a respected polling firm, whose clients include ABC News, American Express, CBS News, and Oracle. The firm’s client also was Presidential Candidate Al Gore in 2000.

Announcement on exit polls comes in an unfavorable environment, where both pro-governmental politicians and some opposition parties cast doubts on accuracy of the opinion polls published daily in the media.

Tsotne Bakuria of the Revival Union recently spoke of one of the leading polling companies – the Institute for Polling and Marketing (IPM) – having a political bias. “IPM is a group under full control of [Zurab] Zhvania [leader of the Burjanadze-Democrats election bloc] and Mikheil Saakashvili [leader of National Movement],” Bakuria said on October 28.

However, other opposition leaders say that the opinion polls and exit polls are additional measures to prevent mass ballot fraud. “That is why the authorities and some of the political parties are afraid of this kind of surveys,” Giorgi Baramidze of the Burjanadze-Democrats election bloc says.

Rustavi 2 decision to hold the exit poll has already triggered political controversy. On October 24 President of the Rustavi 2 broadcasting company Erosi Kitsmarishvili said State Minister Avtandil Jorbenadze demanded from the company not to broadcast the exit poll results. Jorbenadze leads the pro-governmental election bloc For New Georgia.

“Avtandil Jorbenadze visited us last night [October 23] and asked to make the coverage on the eve of the elections in favor of the authorities. He also demanded us to refrain from conducting exit polls on the election day [November 2], which is usually done by Rustavi 2 for each election. Of course we refused,” Erosi Kitsmarishvili said.

“Let’s remember what happened in Baku. Some polling firms published exit poll results, which were absolutely different from the official results of the elections. This triggered disorders in Baku, as a result of which four people died,” Levan Mamaladze of the pro-presidential election bloc For New Georgia says.

However, the opposition leaders say that the only reason, that may trigger destabilization, is a mass ballot fraud. “Thus, the authorities should guarantee free and fair elections, in order to prevent disorder and destabilization,” Nino Burjanadze, the Parliamentary Chairperson and leader of the Burjanadze-Democrats election bloc, says.

Independent observers seem to agree with opinion that the only threat of instability is in mass election fraud. “I do not think that active voters, who support one or another party, would simply sigh and return to their homes, once they do not find their names on the lists on the elections day. I think these errors in the lists may increase tensions,” legal expert Davit Usupashvili says.

The opposition parties lead the recent opinion polls. A survey sponsored by the Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF) and conducted on October 19-22 showed that the National Movement is now the most popular party in Georgia with 22.8% support.

The OSGF survey was based on interviews with 1,000 people in Georgia’s regions and another 1,000 in the capital Tbilisi.

Another leading opposition party, the Burjanadze-Democrats bloc, which had for several weeks been the front-runner, received 19.8% support. A third opposition group, the Labor Party, received 17.6%. The pro-government For New Georgia bloc trailed with 8.7%.


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