Campaign environment ahead of the October 1 parliamentary election “is polarized” and characterized by “frequent public exchanges of accusations and allegations among political adversaries”, a long-term election observation mission from OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said in its first interim report.
OSCE/ODIHR launched the observation mission on August 22 with a core team of 16 experts in Tbilisi and 28 long-term observers deployed throughout the country.
The 8-page interim report, which covers the period between August 22 and September 5, notes that in upcoming elections the ruling United National Movement (UNM) is challenged “among other contestants, by Bidzina Ivanishvili–Georgian Dream (GD), a coalition of six opposition parties promoting widely varying political views.”
“At times, the focus of the campaign is on the advantages of incumbency, on the one hand, and private financial resources, on the other, rather than on concrete political platforms,” the report says.
“While the UNM has expressed commitment to conduct elections in full compliance with standards, the GD has expressed a lack of trust in the electoral process, raising concerns about abuse of administrative resources and intimidation of supporters,” according to the report.
It says that OSCE/ODIHR observation mission interlocutors, including contestants and civil society representatives, “have expressed concern over the potential use of administrative resources, campaigning by public officials, fines imposed that they find excessive, and the seizure of property. They have alleged intimidation of opposition party supporters in public service, hate speech and vote buying.”
The report has a separate chapter which discusses campaign finance issue, which, the document says, “has become a significant and controversial issue in this election.”
Party funding and campaign finance rules have been tightened in Georgia after billionaire Ivanishvili announced about going into politics late last year.
“While [party funding legislative] amendments appear to represent an effort to comply with previous GRECO [the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption] recommendations, including to bar ‘big money’ from influencing political choices, OSCE/ODIHR EOM interlocutors have alleged that some of them were tailored to constrain the political activities of the GD [Georgian Dream] in view of the perceived financial capacity of its leader,” reads the report.
The report contains data from the State Audit Office (SAO), which is in charge of monitoring political party and campaign funding, according to which SAO has imposed a five-fold fine in 90 illegal donation cases and a ten-fold fine in 10 cases. In four cases, donations deemed illegal were transferred to the state budget. In another 66 cases, liens were imposed by court decision on the property of donors who had made illegal donations to an electoral subject.
“A number of OSCE/ODIHR EOM interlocutors accuse the SAO of bias on the grounds of lack of due process and applying a selective approach when fining a particular electoral subject, and for imposing what they consider to be excessive fines. Some of these concerns have also been echoed by high-level delegations of international organizations,” the report reads.
On media environment, the report says it is characterized by “diversity, although media outlets remain divided along political lines and few outlets succeed in pursuing a more independent editorial policy.”
It says that Rustavi 2 and Imedi television stations “are widely perceived as supportive of the government” and the coverage of Kavkasia TV, Maestro TV and Ivanishvili-funded Channel 9 “are all broadly regarded as pro-opposition.”