The campaign has become “increasingly polarized” and the tone of campaign messages of leadership and majoritarian MP candidates of both ruling United National Movement (UNM) party and Georgian Dream are “confrontational and rough,” a long-term election observation mission from OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said in its second interim report.
The report covers the period between September 6 and September 19.
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 polarization of the campaign has increased,” the report reads. “While the UNM leadership systematically questions the origins of [Georgian Dream leader] Mr. [Bidzina] Ivanishvili’s assets and his political agenda in case of victory, the GD [Georgian Dream] responds by accusing the UNM of misrepresenting facts.”
“While it appears that the opposition has opportunities to convey their messages to the electorate, representatives of GD and other opposition parties and NGOs complain about an atmosphere of subtle pressure and intimidation towards opposition views, as well as towards public employees and recipients of social benefits.”
“UNM representatives, municipal authorities and at times the police allegedly signal to such voters not to engage in opposition activities but rather attend UNM rallies. A number of supporters of the opposition have been detained,” the report reads.
It said that OSCE/ODIHR observers “also reported instances when public administration employees and teachers were encouraged to attend UNM rallies.”
The report notes that Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections (IATF) at the National Security Council of Georgia “continues to pro-actively address allegations of violations of electoral legislation.”
The report also says that the Central Election Commission’s decision to extend by three days deadline for oversea voters’ registration “did little to deflect criticism and confusion about applicable registration procedures.”
There were two forms of registration under which Georgian citizens living abroad could become eligible to cast ballot in the October 1 parliamentary elections. Those who were in “consular registry” were automatically eligible to vote – number of such voters was 41,204 as of September 10.
There was also another form of registration, which was easier one than “consulate registration” because it did not require submitting to the diplomatic mission proof-of-residency. Only 1,409 overseas voters were registered under this simplified form as of September 10. CEC announced about this form of registration about a week before the initial deadline expired on September 10; groups of Georgian expatriates were criticizing CEC for not making this clarification much earlier.
“Timely and accurate information about how to qualify for voter registration abroad was not readily available,” OSCE/ODIHR observation mission said in its report. “Confusion mostly related to the lack of distinction between an application for consular registration, which requires a legal address in the country of stay, and an application to be added to the voter list, which does not necessarily require a legal address in the country of stay. Neither the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Civil Registry Department (CRD) nor the CEC website offers information on registering to vote abroad.”
On media coverage of the campaign, the report says that its preliminary media monitoring findings indicate that “only the public broadcaster, GPB, offered a balanced coverage of the campaign”; both UNM and Georgian Dream received “similar proportions of mostly positive and neutral coverage” in GPB’s news programs.
Rustavi 2 and Imedi TV stations “demonstrated bias in favor of the UNM,” according to the report.
It says that while Imedi TV allotted the largest portion of its news coverage (26%) to Georgian Dream, the tone of the coverage was “mainly negative” and its tone of coverage of UNM and Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM) “mostly positive.” According to the report Rustavi 2 demonstrated similar approach in coverage of key contestants.
Channel 9, a television station funded by Ivanishvili and Maestro TV, according to the report, devoted the largest part of their coverage (48% and 36% respectively) to Georgian Dream and the tone of their coverage was “mainly positive.”
The newscasts of Kavkasia were more focused on the activities of Georgian Dream (27%), according to the report, but also provided “considerable amount of positive and neutral coverage” to the UNM and CDM.
The report notes that introduction of ‘must-carry’ rules, obligating cable operators to transmit to their clients TV channels with news programs during the pre-election period, Maestro TV “was able to triple its viewership ratings.”