On September 29, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) presented the fourth interim report of pre-election monitoring which covers the period from September 6 through September 28, 2020. It also covers individual events that started to unfold prior to September 6 and continued or became known during the reporting period.
In the reporting period, ISFED identified 7 cases of physical violence based on a possible political motive; 24 cases of harassment/intimidation based on a possible political motive; 8 cases of possible vote-buying; 1 case of dismissal from work based on a possible political motive; 13 cases of possible use of administrative resources; 8 cases of participation of unauthorized individuals in election campaign; cases of damaging campaign materials in up to 20 municipalities and districts of Tbilisi.
According to the organization, during the reporting period, facts of intimidation, harassment and interference with voters, activists and opposition politicians remains the biggest challenge. Sharp increase of such cases as the voting day approaches is an important challenge harming the election process. On the one hand, this makes it difficult for politicians to have a free communication with voters and on the other hand, it interferes with expression and realization of voters’ free will. Instances of physical retribution also remains a challenge; the number of such incidents is growing as the election processes becomes more active and the voting day approaches. It is the assessment of the organization that conducting a timely, impartial and transparent investigation into the facts of harassment, intimidation and interference and punishing the perpetrators is extremely important.
In recent days, the situation became especially tense in Marneuli and Bolnisi. On September 28, in village Sadakhlo, an activist of the European Georgia was possibly shot with a gallery gun and wounded in his leg. Opposition believes that the incident is connected to the Georgian Dream. On September 27, in Bolnisi, as a result of a confrontation between representatives of the ruling party and the Strength is in Unity representatives, several individuals sustained physical injuries. In addition, according to an opposition candidate, Kakhaber Okriashvili, supporters of the ruling party candidate were firing shots in the air. We believe that the situation in Bolnisi and Dmanisi district warrants a particular attention. Law enforcement authorities should investigate the incidents of violence in an objective and timely manner, while parties and their supporters should abandon the use of violent methods.
Cases of blackmailing female politicians by threatening to disclose details of their private life is especially alarming. In Zugdidi, a female member of Lelo was publicly threatened on Facebook by the chief of staff of State Representative(Governor) in Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti, Lasha Gvasalia. In particular, he threatened to disclose certain facts about her private life. According to the party representatives, blackmail and harassment of Lelo members by the authorities has become a malicious practice. Leader of Strategy Agmashenebeli Giorgi Vashadze reported that a female member of his team has been blackmailed through disclosure of details of her private life. To protect his teammate’s personal information, Giorgi Vashadze didn’t specify her identity. It should be a priority for investigative authorities to adequately investigate and punish such cases of blackmail against female opposition members. Otherwise, statements about supporting women’s participation in politics will remain empty slogans, devoid of any meaning.
In several municipalities, opposition representatives reported that their supporters were harassed and attempts to recruit them were made. According to these politicians, for that reason it is difficult to find staff locally. They also said their supporters and representatives have refused to continue working with them.
Representatives of Lelo for Georgia have pointed out instances of surveillance of their leaders and members in different municipalities, and attendance of local government representatives at their meetings, which – they argue - makes their supporters feel uncomfortable.
Notably, school and kindergarten teachers remain one of the most important human resources for political parties and attempts to involve them in campaigning are frequent, mostly by the ruling party. In light of this, they are often pressured. Head of the Educational Resource Center of Telavi, Levan Mrelashvili discussed together with public school principals intimidation of principals and teachers by parties of the united opposition. In particular, he noted that many principals had recently received anonymous calls, urging them to quit cooperating with the authorities since Georgian Dream’s days were numbered and when the opposition came to power, they would lose their jobs. Several school principals told ISFED that they have heard about such facts from their colleagues. They asked to remain anonymous.
Unauthorized individuals remain actively involved in election campaigning. Local officials, employees of non-profit (non-commercial) legal entities, and precinct election commission members attend campaign meetings held during working hours. Participation of citizens of foreign countries was also found. The United National Movement is conducting a campaign called „Give a Task to Misha“. According to the initiative, Mikheil Saakashvili is involved in the campaign, who is currently a citizen of a foreign country and has no right to participate in elections in Georgia. There are many video statements of Mikheil Saakashvili disseminated in social media, where he gives election promises on his and the party’s behalf.
Possible vote-buying attempts by individual political parties remains a problem. This includes cases when a candidate realizes possible risks of violating the election legislation but disregards them.
Cases of possible use of administrative resources were identified again. In Abasha, a crane that belongs to the municipality was used to place a banner of a majoritarian candidate, Aleksandre Motserelia. In addition, 300 university students from Rustavi were funded from the local budget; as noted by the local Assembly chair and his deputy, this year the number of students has been unprecedentedly high; 33 students in 2018 and 157 students in 2019 with high academic performance received one-time funding. The amount of funding is based on scores received by students and it ranges from 800 to 1200 laris. Zugdidi Municipality Assembly violated the prohibition provided in the Election Code and increased infrastructural expenses in the municipal budget by 1 032 100 laris within the period of 60 days prior to the elections.
According to the head of a non-profit (non-commercial) legal entity Association of Musical Schools of Kvareli municipality, the mayor dismissed her from work due to her husband’s political activism – for supporting the United National Movement.
There has been a massive surge of cases of damaging campaign materials across Georgia. At this stage, cases of massive destruction of the European Georgia campaign materials has been found in 20 municipalities. Majority of posters have been torn and damaged, while in Zugdidi, Akhaltsikhe and Aspindza, the party posters were covered up by photos of the Georgian Dream majoritarian candidates. In addition, in various municipalities, UNM, GD, Strategy Agmashenebeli, Labor Party and Free Georgia campaign materials have been damaged. In some cases, damaged posters are near surveillance cameras of private facilities but they have not been scrutinized.
During the reporting period, precinct electoral commissions were composed. Notably, on the most part, this was a pro forma process. In most districts, commission members had already made a decision and had marked persons to be elected on the list of contenders. They were indicating their decisions on papers printed out according to precincts. Opposition representatives were requesting to include an additional item on the agenda, in order for individual candidates to be discussed separately and precinct commissions be composed after that. In some precincts, the request was put to a vote but it did not receive sufficient number of votes. Therefore, the process took place amid opposition protest. In a number of districts, they refused to participate in casting of lots.
Some of the newly elected commissioners have ties with the ruling party – their relatives or family members are activists or coordinators of the party. Those elected as PEC members include civil servants, employees of local assemblies or mayor’s offices, as well as employees of administrative units and municipal non-profit (non-commercial) legal entities. Based on the information obtained by ISFED observer, these individuals have taken a leave of absence. Even though this does not amount to a direct violation, it calls their impartiality into question.
Central and local authorities should:
Political parties should: