Second round taking place amid a political crisis
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) will monitor the second round of the 2020 Parliamentary Elections of Georgia to be held on November 21 in 17 majoritarian districts through 35 mobile groups. In view of the non-competitive election environment and dramatic increase of coronavirus cases, ISFED will deploy a limited observation mission for the second round.
Opposition parties have refused to participate in the runoff election. Even though the Election Code does not provide an opportunity for majoritarian candidates to remove their candidacies and there will be two candidates with best results on the ballot, boycott of opposition parties and their refusal to participate in the election runoff leaves monitoring of the elections almost entirely devoid of sense. In addition, considering problems in the healthcare system amid increasing number of coronavirus cases, deploying observers at polling stations all day long will create unnecessary health risks.
Pre-election environment of the second round
In the majoritarian component of the October 31, 2020 parliamentary elections held in 30 majoritarian districts, 13 candidates of the ruling party –Georgian Dream won the first round, which has created the need to hold majoritarian runoffs for the remaining 17 mandates. Two candidates that garnered most votes in the first round will be competing in the second round. Candidate with the most votes will be the winning candidate.
The second round has been called against the backdrop of opposition boycott. They are refusing to enter parliament or participate in the runoffs. Opposition boycott has mostly been caused by imbalance and overwritten data in protocols summarizing the October 31 voting results and correction protocols prepared on the basis of verbal statements of PEC members. Critical majority of complaints filed in connection to such irregularities were denied or dismissed by DECs and courts. Refusal of the election administration to recount results at problematic precincts further reinforced suspicions about credibility of correction protocols and intensified the political crisis in the country.
In an attempt to break the deadlock after the inability to use legal avenues for solving the problem, three NGOs urged the ruling party and opposition parties to start negotiating to reach an agreement. Foreign ambassadors have facilitated two meetings between the parties but no agreement has been reached prior to the second round.
Against the backdrop of unfair complaints process, on November 8, law enforcement authorities used water cannons to disperse the protest rally of the opposition outside the CEC, despite the fact that the rally had just begun and it had not gone outside the limits of the legitimate form of assembly and manifestation. ISFED evaluates this as use of disproportionate force against protesters.
At the protest rally held on Rustaveli Avenue on November 9, three civil activists who brought firewood to the rally to build fires to stay warm were arrested on charges of petty hooliganism and police disobedience. Two of them were fined by court, one was sentenced to 3 days of administrative imprisonment.
On November 7, Isani DEC chairperson died. The same day, GD representative Giorgi Khelashvili held a briefing and said that the chairperson’s death was connected to the UNM. According to him, the day before, UNM activists subjected several DEC chairpersons including Isani DEC chairperson to pressure. Khelashviliurged law enforcement authorities to launch a probe „in this regard“. The same day, the police arrested two individuals – Akaki Khorbaladze and Akaki Khuskivadze on charges of bribery, threats and coercion committed by a group. These individuals have a lengthy experience working in the election administration and they are close friends of the deceased. They plead not guilty and according to their lawyers, their arrest is politically motivated. The arrested individuals themselves believe that their arrest is connected to the fact that they talked about election irregularities on Mtavari TV.
Ahead of the second round of the elections, two facts of damaging opposition party offices took place. On November 16, in Gldani, campaign office of UNM majoritarian candidate Nika Melia was set on fire. According to representatives of the candidate, the office windows were smashed on purpose, Molotov cocktails were thrown in and the office was intentionally set on fire. Investigation has been initiated under Article 187 of the Criminal Code of Georgia (damaging or destroying someone’s property).
On November 15, in Batumi, facade of UNM campaign office on Agmashenebeli Avenue was smashed. Investigation has been initiated based on Article 187 of the Criminal Code. On November 29, the Interior Ministry announced that a suspect had confessed to the crime.
On November 21, the election runoffs will be held amid political crisis and protest of opposition parties. Despite the existing situation, constitutional right of every voter to vote for candidates of their choice is important. ISFED urges political parties not to interfere with voters and not to create uncomfortable and hostile environment in the process of realization of the right to vote.