Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Caucasus: Jan ‘08

IWPR journalists get a chance to report on the high-charged Georgian leadership ballot.
A group of IWPR journalists from across the region took part in a joint assignment earlier this month to cover the presidential elections in Georgia.

The mission was organised as a part of Cross Caucasus Journalism Network Project - a three-year-programme funded by the European Union and other donors. Nine journalists representing Armenia, Azerbaijan, the autonomous republics of North Ossetia and Karachaevo-Cherkessiya, as well as the unrecognised republic of South Ossetia, were involved in the reporting assignment.

During the mission, the journalists met nearly all the candidates contesting the poll, January 3-6. In meetings with analysts, they got an overview of the political situation in Georgia, as well as sense of the likely outcome of the ballot.

The election campaign took place in a polarised political environment. President Mikhail Saakashvili had called the ballot after serious unrest in December, during which opposition forces demanded that the president step down. Such was opposition distrust the election process that a number of candidates were convinced that Saakashvili would resort to electoral fraud to remain in power.

Levan Gachechiladze, the candidate of the United Opposition movement, and Saakashvili’s main rival, said the latter “cannot win without falsifications”.

On election day, January 5, journalists were divided into smaller groups to follow the voting process. In the morning,

they saw Saakasvhili, Gachechiladze, the acting president Nino Burjanadze and others cast their votes. They also attended a number of press conferences devoted to the voting process.

“The most important thing I learnt was the fact that elections can be emotional and colourful, like a show!” said Rauf Urudjov, one of the CCJN journalists, after the elections were over.

January 6, the last day of the mission, was devoted to following the vote count, exit polls and the reaction of the opposition to the results. The journalists gathered in Rike Square, where the opposition staged demonstration, claiming the election result had been falsified.

At the same time, however, international observers published their preliminary monitoring results that declared the poll had been free and fair.

The CCJN journalists produced a number of election reports. Some of them, such as Karine Asatryan from A1+ website in Yerevan, filed news and features throughout the trip, while others did so on their return.

The participants said they learnt a great deal from the mission and were eager to return to Tbilisi to cover political developments.

“It was such a great group. I was wondering if we could come back and report on [forthcoming] parliamentary elections?” said Rauf Orudjev from Baku.

The journalists continued to keep in touch with each other via email weeks after the presidential ballot, exchanging notes on their assignment, in particular their different perspectives on election process.

The CCJN mission provided the journalists with a rare opportunity to report at first hand on political developments outside of their own country and work with colleagues from different parts of the region.

“I really appreciated the mission …because it gave us a chance to see and evaluate the state of Georgian society,” said Murat Gukemukhov, a participant from Karachaevo-Cherkessia in the Russian North Caucasus.

“It helps to break the isolation of the Caucasus people and gave us a chance to meet colleagues from different countries.”

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