Pre-election environment in lead up to the October 1 parliamentary polls, marked by uneven playing field, did not show an improvement compared to previous elections, three Tbilisi-based watchdog groups have said.
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA); International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) and Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia) released a joint briefing paper, assessing pre-election environment.
“In spite of the fact that there have been some positive amendments in the legislation, the selective application of the law, abuse of administrative resources and a significant number of arrests of the opposition and civil activists let us conclude that the pre-election environment does not show an improvement compared to previous elections,” the groups said.
These factors, as well as others such as “disproportionate sanctions” levied against opposition for violations of the law, “pressure” on civil servants and businesses and “the lack of an independent judiciary contributed to an uneven playing field”, the local observers said.
The three watchdog groups have described the Monday’s poll as “the most important parliamentary election since Georgia’s independence” as the newly elected parliament will have to confirm a prime minister after power shifts from presidency to PM following the October, 2013 presidential elections.
They said that the two major contestants – Bidzina Ivanishvili-led Georgian Dream opposition coalition and ruling UNM party – “have mobilized all their available financial and human resources, using all means to reach their elections goals.”
According to the three watchdog groups’ assessment, during the campaign both of the major contestants presented “simplistic programs” pledging large investments in the agriculture sector, infrastructure, education, healthcare and social benefits.
“Both, the ruling party and the opposition have on numerous occasions used the means and resources available to them to bribe voters,” the joint assessment reads. "The ruling party has failed to draw a clear line between the state and the ruling party, a fundamental prerequisite for a truly democratic system."
Local observers have also noted that “several candidates for the Georgian Dream have used hate speech in their campaigns, making racist, homophobic and xenophobic statements.”
They said that following introduction of ‘must-carry’ rules an access to pluralistic sources of information in lead up to the Monday’s election was “the best” since the shutdown of Imedi TV in November 2007 after crack down on anti-government demonstrations.
“About half the population had access to both, TV stations supporting the government and the opposition,” observers said. “However, numerous shortcomings remain in the highly polarized media sector, and the availability of critical stations in cable and satellite packages after the regulation runs out on September 30 will be crucial for the post-election period.”