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Adzharia Votes for a Pro-Tbilisi Parliament

BATUMI, Georgia -- Voters in Georgia's autonomous province of Adzharia chose new legislators Sunday in local parliamentary elections dominated by supporters of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The vote follows a standoff between Saakashvili and former Adzharian leader Aslan Abashidze, which ended in May when Abashidze fled to Russia.

About 40 percent of the 108,000 registered voters cast ballots by 4 p.m., above the one-third needed to make the election valid, said Zurab Nonikashvili, acting chairman of the Georgian election commission.

Turnout was light as the voting got under way Sunday morning. Koba Davetaishvili, a member of the Georgian parliament observing the vote, speculated that many voters were not showing up because they did not know what was at stake: The bill setting out the powers of the legislature has yet to be passed because of differences over the extent of autonomy to be granted to Adzharia.

The two parties that have dominated the race have both sworn their allegiance to Saakashvili. One of them chose to express its loyalty by adopting the president's name as its own: Mikheil Saakashvili -- Victorious Adzharia.

"I have more hope for them than for others," said Djoni Abashidze, a 37-year-old engineer. "True, not much has changed in our life yet, but we have hope ... that there will be jobs."

The other dominant party, the Republicans, wants more autonomy for the region. Ivlian Khaindrava, a Republican leader, said the bill on Adzharia's status currently being considered by Georgia's parliament unduly restricts the province's autonomy.

(The Moscow Times 21.vi.04)

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