ISFED (Georgia): Final Report on the long-term observation of the Presidential Elections, 27 October 2013
For the improvement of applicable legal framework during the period leading up to the elections, creation of an inter-factional task force on elections in the parliament was a positive step forward, allowing all stakeholders to present legislative recommendations and participate in discussions. It is to the credit of the task force that the Election Code and the Law of Georgia on Political Unions of Citizens were amended. We also welcome changes for limiting use of state resources, giving legal entities an opportunity to provide funding for parties, reducing unreasonable and disproportionate sanctions imposed on political parties, drawing a line between the timeframes for administrative proceedings and proceedings that involve property impounding, as well as timeframes for filing corresponding appeals. However, the work of the inter-factional task force did not address certain important issues that include staffing of election administration, changes in the election system for local self-government and parliamentary elections, formation of voter lists, media coverage of elections, etc. Therefore, we believe that in order to further improve the election laws the work on election reform should continue.
It is ISFED’s assessment that the work of the CEC was open, promoting collaborative environment with local and international organizations as well as political parties. The CEC was actively involved in voter awareness. It created a video about election procedures as well as guidelines for use of state resources, consideration of election disputes and other matters.
However, ISFED criticized two of the CEC’s decisions: one about the refusal to register a holder of dual citizenship as presidential candidate, made on the basis of a wrongful interpretation of the Constitution, and another about regulations of photo and video shooting during the polling day.
As to District Election Commissions, majority of problems revealed during the monitoring was related to staffing of the election administration. Some of the temporary members of district election commissions appointed by the CEC as well as political parties also served in various public agencies. Further, members of the Coalition Georgian Dream interfered with the work of district election commissions.
The format of the Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Election was very important during pre-election period, as it enabled political parties and monitoring organizations to raise important issues pertinent to the election period before the commission and submit reports about alleged violations.
The IATF which operated under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice, did elaborate several important recommendations; however, considering non-binding nature of these recommendations as well as the lack of mechanism to ensure compliance, majority of these recommendations was never realized.
Further, examining issues raised by the UNM in a constructive manner was also problematic as frequently meetings of the IATF turned into the scene of political debates. Lack of constructive environment at the IATF meetings had adverse impact on the work of the commission and the opposition’s full involvement in it.
Compared to 2012 parliamentary elections, the State Audit Office was less active. The financial monitoring service did not examine any of ISFED’s reports of vote buying.
Compared to 2012 pre-election period, when the service of financial monitoring was harshly criticized for violations, the process of obtaining statements from citizens did not involve any violations. Total of 92 persons were interviewed during the pre-election period for obtaining statements.
Similar to the 2012 parliamentary elections, the issue of voters removed from registration remained a problem. The CEC estimated that number of such voters was 97 000. We welcome the fact that the CEC did not include these voters automatically on the voter list, unlike the previous 2012 elections. Instead, the Agency for the Development of State Services posted a database on its website for re-registration of voters removed from registration, through which every individual citizen was able to receive information about the status of his/her registration and learn about procedures of re-registration.
During the pre-election period, there were no frequent abuses of state resources by political parties and election subjects. ISFED detected total of 17 cases of abusing public resources both in favor of the ruling party as well as the opposition. ISFED found that the coalition Georgian Dream abuse public resources in ten cases, the UNM in seven.
ISFED also detected several facts of vote buying with the involvement of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, by transferring goods of material value or offering benefits to citizens of Georgia.
During the reporting period ISFED detected 14 acts of pressure and threats. In most of the cases these threats and pressure were leveled against municipal officials.
We identified 7 acts of assault on political grounds, including 3 against the UNM supporters, two against supporters of the Democratic Movement – Unified Georgia and two against members of the coalition Georgian Dream. Assaults were perpetrated both by supporters of various candidates as well as police officers, representatives of municipal authorities and members of parliament.
Changes of municipal officials on political grounds continued during the pre-election period. Even though the IATF issued a recommendation to terminate any comprehensive changes in self-government agencies, the process continued intensely and also entailed impeachment of Gamgebelis and Sakrebulo Chairpersons. During the pre-election campaign Gamgebelis were replaced in 19 municipalities, Sakrebulo Chairpersons in three; notably, we found that majoritarian MPs interfered in the work of self-government authorities in a number of municipalities; in a number of instances Gamgebelis were replaced amid public protests.
During the pre-election period election subjects and their supporters held agitation meetings throughout Georgia. We found attempts to interfere with the UNM primaries by using force by radical opponents of the political opposition. These facts were later discontinued.
ISFED estimates that from July 1 through October 23, 2013, political parties and their presidential candidates held total of 801 public meetings during the pre-election period in various territorial units of Georgia.
The pre-election period was marked with a free media environment in which various outlets covered meetings of election subject candidates with voters and political developments that unfolded. Despite these positive developments, several media outlets faced a number of obstacles. The most outstanding of these cases was the case of Guria Moambe when local media outlet accused Gamgebeli of exerting pressure, while one of the owners of Maestro TV made a statement about alleged pressure on political rounds by a group of officials. We would like to also highlight the developments around the public broadcaster involving the closing down of political talk-shows during the pre-election period.
Polling was conducted in an organized manner and in a peaceful environment throughout Georgia. Majority of violations detected on the Election Day were procedural in nature. Several major flaws in the polling process include failure to adequately maintain election materials (112 cases), presence of unauthorized individuals at election precinct (13 cases), voting with inappropriate documents (12 cases), violation of regulations for sealing election documents (12 cases) and problems about voter lists in Batumi. Further, there was a trend of gaps in summary protocols (18 cases) and rewriting information recorded in summary protocols (13 cases).
According to PVT, voter turnout throughout Georgia was 46.9%, in Tbilisi – 48.2% and 46.4% in the regions, a significant decrease from the 2012 parliamentary elections when voter turnout was 60.9%.
ISFED’s observers filed total of 93 complaints over violations in polling, vote counting and drawing up of summary protocols in various district and precinct election commissions. Complaints were also filed over violations that include inadequately preparing/maintaining election documents, voting with inappropriate documents, pre-made signatures, violation of casting-of-lots and inking procedures, regulations for sealing election material, etc. ISFED’s observers reacted to 216 violations in total. Notably, majority of these violations were technical in nature and mostly result of lack of professionalism and qualification of election commission members.
Application process on the Elections Day was conducted in a transparent manner, in observance of applicable laws. District election commissions examined facts, representatives of the organization were able to attend complaints review and express the position of the organization about applications filed. Decisions of election commissions were mostly substantiated; however, many decisions failed to provide grounds for rejecting the claims.