On August 6 the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) presented the presented Monitoring Report for the Unofficial Election Period of the 2021 Local Self-Government Elections. The report covers the period from June 1 through August 2 as well as individual events that started to occur prior to June 1 and continued or became known during the reporting period.
The election observation mission of ISFED identified the following key findings during the unofficial election campaign period:
According to ISFED’s findings, in the unofficial pre-election campaign period, the ruling party dominated in terms of the campaign intensity. Among the opposition parties, the new “For Georgia” party, formed by the former prime minister, Giorgi Gakharia was more active. In the reporting period, the “For Georgia” party opened regional offices and held meetings with voters. Unlike the opposition, the ruling party already announced the list of its mayoral candidates. Some of the parties in the opposition also nominated candidates for the Tbilisi mayor and the Sakrebulo chair.
On August 2, a day before the launch of the official campaign period, the Parliament of Georgia elected the chair and two professional members of the Central Election Commission (CEC); however, due to their election with low threshold, they will hold the positions only for 6 months. The main goal of the electoral reform with regards to the changes in the rules of composition of the election administration was to increase trust towardsthe CEC, but this goal was not fulfilled due to the absence of political will. Neither during the work of the selection commission set up under the Presidential administration for shortlisting the candidates (in case of the candidates for the CEC chair’s position), nor during the parliamentary hearings was it made possible to select the nominees that would enjoy high legitimacy among the public and the political spectrum. As a result, the main problem facing the election administration – lack of public trust – still remains unaddressed ahead of the local self-government elections.
Similar to the 2020 Parliamentary election, announcement and implementation of infrastructure and social projects aimed at winning the hearts of voters close to the pre-election period was commonplace. ISFED believes that this potentially carries the risk of manipulation of voters’ choice. One such large-scale project was the decision of the Government of Georgia to write off fines from individuals and legal entities (worth of GEL 76 million in total) imposed for violating the coronavirus regulations - rules of isolation, quarantine and face covering.
During the reporting period, ISFED observed the trend of dismissals/pressure on alleged political grounds in the regions of Georgia. According to its observations, most cases of alleged pressure and hampering of political activities involved the “For Georgia” party. This manifested in creation of barriers for conducting public meetings and rental of office spaces.
Georgia’s electoral legislation bans changes to municipal budgets in the official pre-election period. With this in mind, in most municipalities, the budgetary changes were introduced and approved in June and In this process, increase in funding for social and infrastructure projects and intensification of respective works can be highlighted as a trend. While it is true that the process of budgetary amendments was carried out within thelegal timeframe, it blurs the line between state resources and party interests, particularly in areas where incumbent mayors and council chairs are running for offices. This comes into contradiction with the OSCE Copenhagen Document and international standards for election conduct.
Similar to the 2020 Parliamentary election, involvement of mayor's representatives to administrative units of municipalities in the pre-election campaign in favor of the ruling party remains a problem. The mayor's representatives act on behalf of the ruling party in their areas of operation and are engaged in voter mobilization and campaigning.
Against the backdrop of worsening the modalities of the gender quota mechanism by the Parliament of Georgia, the problem of a hostile environment towards women in politics became more evident. This includedfacts of gender-based insults against female members of the Parliament and municipality sakrebulos (city councils).
Negative attitudes towards representatives of critical media outlets took a particularly alarming form, wideningthe already polarized Hampering the work of media representatives negatively affects the right of voters to receive complete and comprehensive information on political / electoral processes, and by extension, the right to make an informed choice.
In the reporting period, the ad hoc investigative commission on the 2020 Parliamentary election completed its tenure. According to ISFED’s assessment, findings of the ad hoc commission served the purpose of strengthening the position of the ruling party and of deliberately discrediting the activities of observer organizations, particularly that of ISFED. Given that the conclusion of the Commission is effectively endorsed by one party only, the Georgian Dream, it can be said that the ruling party used the commission as a political instrument and not for objective scrutiny of theParliamentary election.