While the January 5 presidential polls were “in essence democratic elections,” significant challenges were also revealed, the international election observation mission (IEOM) said.
The mission, involving observers from OSCE/ODIHR, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe and European Parliament, released its preliminary findings on January 6.
“In Georgia yesterday democracy took a triumphant step,” Alcee L. Hastings, the U.S. Congressman who coordinated the OSCE short-term observation mission, said at a news conference in Tbilisi. “I perceive these elections as a viable expression of free choice of the Georgian people. But the future holds immense challenges. The leaders and followers of this great country have many roads and bridges to cross on the path of democracy… We remain particularly pleased to note the calm and peaceful atmosphere during the yesterday’s elections.”
He pointed out that preliminary conclusions had no relation to the outcome to the elections. “We are here to report on the process, not the results,” he added.
Speaking about polling day, Dieter Boden, a German diplomat, who led the OSCE/ ODIHR long-term observation mission, however, said that the mission lacked “full clarity on some important aspects of election day.”
“As you have maybe also noticed, results came in slower than expected,” he said. “So, we still need full clarity concerning, for example, the count of the votes, tabulation, the posting of results and the nature and substance of complaints. We need all these data for the final report on this election, which will be submitted in February.”
At the time of the press conference, 3pm local time, the Central Election Commission (CEC) had released results from only 326 out of 3,512 polling stations.
Boden, who has spend the last five weeks in Georgia observing the pre-election campaign, also emphasized “cases of intimidation.”
“We have noted that the election has been prepared in a professional manner, but we would do a disservice to Georgian democracy if we did not also speak out openly where it was not in line with OSCE commitments, such as cases of intimidation,” he said. “Those are challenges which should be taken up and addressed urgently and through the appropriate channels.”
According to the preliminary conclusions of the international observation mission, “the campaign was overshadowed by widespread allegations of intimidation and pressure, a number of which were substantiated, among others on public-sector employees.”
“Election day was generally peaceful. Overall, voting was assessed positively by a large majority of IEOM observers,” the document reads. “However, organizational and procedural shortcomings were observed, especially with regard to inconsistent application of inking procedures, intended as a safeguard against multiple voting. This is especially significant given the reintroduction of election-day voter registration and the scale by which it was used. The vote count was evaluated less positively, with many significant procedural shortcomings observed, which may have been complicated by last minute revisions of election-day procedures.”