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Georgian Opposition Scores Stunning Election Win

Plus, Facebook’s Zuckerberg hunts heads in Russia and Hungary moves to ban slot machines.

by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, and Nino Tsintsadze 2 October 2012

1. Saakashvili concedes defeat in hotly contested national election

 

In a nationally televised address at midday 2 October, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili conceded his party’s defeat in the previous day’s parliamentary elections.

 

Preliminary results show that “it is obvious that the coalition Georgian Dream has gained an advantage in these elections,” Saakashvili said, according to Civil.ge. He said his party would now go into opposition.

 

Saakashvili concedesGeorgian President Mikheil Saakashvili concedes defeat in the 1 October parliamentary elections. Screen shot from a video posted on the Georgian presidency%u2019s YouTube page.

 

As of 3 p.m. local time, the central electoral commission said Georgian Dream had won 53.1 percent of the vote and the ruling United National Movement 41.6 percent, with results from 28 percent of precincts counted. The opposition coalition was ahead in both the proportional and majoritarian races. Proportional races determine 77 of the 150 seats in the legislature with the remaining 73 being decided by direct election.

 

If confirmed, the result would mark a stunning victory for the six-party coalition led and financed by businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, and the first electoral defeat for Saakashvili’s UNM since it came to power in the 2003 “Rose Revolution.”

 

Minutes after the polls closed at 8 p.m. on 1 October, the first exit polls pointed to a strong Georgian Dream victory in the party-list races. UNM officials continued to hope for an overall majority on the back of the majoritarian races, Civil.ge reported before the latest figures were released.

 

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said 2 October the elections “marked an important step in consolidating the conduct of democratic elections, although certain key issues remain to be addressed.” Election observers found that the voting was competitive, although the campaign was “polarized and tense, with some instances of violence,” the OSCE said in a statement.

 

2. First Czech direct presidential vote set for January

 

Presidential elections in the Czech Republic will take place on 11-12 January, Senate Chairman Milan Stech announced 1 October. If required, a second round will take place two weeks later. This will be the first time a Czech head of state is elected directly rather than by the parliament, following the Senate’s passage of an election law earlier this year.

 

Jan Fischer100Jan Fischer
Incumbent Vaclav Klaus’ second term ends in March, making him ineligible to serve again. Recent opinion polls make two former prime ministers, Jan Fischer and Milos Zeman, the front runners and suggest neither will win outright in the first round, the Prague Daily Monitor reports. Fischer is running as an independent and Zeman, the former leader of the Social Democrats, now heads a rival left-of-center party, Strana Prav Obcanu-Zemanovci (Citizen’s Rights Party-Zemanites).

 

Candidates must either be nominated by 10 senators or 20 members of the lower house of parliament, or submit 50,000 signatures of citizens. Former public television manager and European Parliament member Jana Bobosikova’s supporters passed the threshold last week, according to the Prague Daily Monitor. Bobosikova heads a non-parliamentary, nationalist party. Several other candidates have been proposed by the parliamentary parties. Other hopefuls have until 6 November to garner party support or submit the necessary signatures.

 

3. Facebook founder seeks new talent in Russia

 

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev welcomed Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to Moscow 1 October. Medvedev, an enthusiastic blogger and Twitter user, said he was one of Russia’s estimated 10 million users of the social networking site.

 

Zuckerberg was in Russia at the conclusion of a series of events in 12 countries to identify young IT talent, leading some Russian media to liken the visit to a head-hunting tour. The director of one Russian IT company wrote on his Facebook page that the California company was interviewing programmers and offering jobs and immediate relocation to the United States to successful candidates, state-owned RT reports.

 

RT quotes Medvedev’s press secretary, Natalya Timakova, as saying he and Zuckerberg discussed the high-tech hub at Skolkovo, outside Moscow, as a potential site for startups of mutual interest. Communications Minister Nikolay Nikiforov blogged during the meeting that the pair also agreed to a Facebook-sponsored research center in Russia, RT writes.

 

Facebook is not the biggest social network in Russia, RIA Novosti notes. The very similar Russian-language Vkontakte site has an estimated 33 million users.

 

MedvedevZukerberg350Dmitry Medvedev greets Mark Zuckerberg in Moscow 1 October. Photo: Medvedev’s official Facebook page

 

4. Fidesz calls for swift end to slot machines in Hungary

 

The Hungarian government is pushing for rapid approval of a bill to ban slot machines, the office of Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced 1 October. Janos Lazar, Orban’s chief of staff, said parliament was expected to consider the bill urgently and could adopt it as early as 2 October, allowing the law to take effect by the end of the month. Slot machines would then be permitted only in the three casinos operating under a government concession, Lazar said.

 

Although previous restrictions cut the number of video gambling machines in pubs and cafes from 25,000 to about 4,500, government spokesman Andras Giro-Szasz said those measures had only partly stopped the poor from spending welfare payments on gambling. He also referred to unspecified national security risks connected with the gambling industry.

 

Lazar said the resulting 20 billion to 30 billion forint ($90 million to $135 million) budget shortfall from lost tax revenues would be made up by new taxes on online gambling.

 

The Wall Street Journal’s Emerging Europe blog quotes Lazar as saying that gambling is dangerous and harmful to society and goes against the conservative principles of the governing Fidesz party.

5. Baku’s perplexing gifts to Mexico City

 

A life-size statue of former Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev and a monument to the sufferings of the Azeri people recently erected in the center of Mexico City have been drawing criticism from the residents of the Mexican capital, according to the Kyiv Post.

 

Placed on the central Reforma Avenue close to statues of Mexican national heroes, Mahatma Gandhi, and Abraham Lincoln, the statue stands before a marble map of Azerbaijan and a plaque calling Aliev “a brilliant example of infinite devotion to the motherland, loyal to the universal ideals of world peace." Aliev led Soviet Azerbaijan from 1969 to 1982 and served as president of the newly independent country from 1993 to 2003. He died in 2003 shortly after his son, Ilham, was elected to succeed him.

 

The Azerbaijani government reportedly contributed $5 million to renovate two parks in Mexico City. A monument to the Azeris killed in a massacre during the Nagorno-Karabakh war was erected in one of the parks.

 

The Azerbaijani ambassador to Mexico, Ilgar Mukhtarov, said the Aliev monument is intended to thank Mexico for being one of the first countries to recognize Azerbaijan’s independence. "This monument is not intended to improve anybody's reputation, because the world's perception of Heidar Aliev does not require any rescuing," he said.

 

Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard gave a more straightforward explanation, saying, “[W]e are very thankful to the Republic of Azerbaijan, because the truth is we haven't received an investment this big” from a foreign government previously.

 

H.Aliev.park.Tbilisi
Mexico City is not the only foreign capital that boasts monuments to the deceased Azeri president. In 2009, Tbilisi installed a bust of Aliev in a small park also named after him, and last year Belgrade did the same after Azerbaijan donated about $3 million for a park renovation.

 

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor for TOL. Ioana Caloianu is TOL editorial assistant. Nino Tsintsadze is a TOL editorial intern.
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