177 polling stations will open from 8am on Saturday in three single-mandate constituencies for by-elections to fill three vacant majoritarian seats in the Parliament.
By-elections will be held in Tbilisi’s Nadzaladevi constituency, as well as in Samtredia and Bagdati constituencies of Imereti region in western Georgia.
Nadzaladevi constituency in Tbilisi is the most contested one where ten candidates are running for the MP majoritarian seat.
Georgian Dream coalition’s candidate in Nadzaladevi is Tamar Kordzaia, who previously served as executive director of the press council, a self-regulatory body for up to two hundred journalists united under the ethics charter. Before becoming executive director of the Council of Charter of the Journalistic Ethics in February 2012, Kordzaia served as head of the Media Legal Defense Center at the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA).
Her competitor from the UNM is Papuna Davitaia, who was the state minister for diaspora issues before October, 2012. Before becoming the state minister in late 2009, he was UNM parliamentarian.
Among the candidates running in Nadzaladevi constituency are leader of Free Georgia party Kakha Kukava and Giorgi Gugava of the Labor Party, as well as candidates from several small parties, largely unknown to wider public; the list also includes two independent candidates, including Soso Manjavidze, who is a long-time fierce critic of President Saakashvili and now also criticizes GD for, as he puts it, taking soft stance towards UNM and for “artificially imposing cohabitation” system.
Gugava of the Labor Party says that this by-election is a chance to endorse in the Parliament “real opposition voice” to confront “two governing parties” GD and UNM, which, he says, successfully shared power leaving no room for “the real opposition.” Kukava of the Free Georgia party says, if elected, he will push for suspending seizures of homes by banks from mortgage debtors; withdrawal from Georgia’s commitment before Council of Europe to sign and ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages; banning sale of agricultural lands to foreign citizens and setting up of a parliamentary investigative commission to put UNM leadership before justice for “committed crimes.” UNM candidate Papuna Davitaia said during one televised debates with his competitors that other candidates were contesting in which one of them “hates UNM the most.”
Majoritarian MP seat from Tbilisi’s Nadzaladevi single-mandate constituency became vacant shortly after the October 2012 parliamentary elections after Tea Tsulukiani, who was elected in Nadzaladevi, was appointed as Justice Minister.
Eight candidates are running for a majoritarian MP seat in Bagdati single-mandate constituency, among them GD’s Paata Kiknavelidze, a corporate lawyer who has been with MKD law firm, and UNM’s Vladimer Tsikoridze, who is deputy chairman of local town council (Sakrebulo) in Bagdati.
MP seat from Bagdati single-mandate constituency became vacant after Archil Kbilashvili, who was elected in that constituency in the October, 2012 elections, was appointed as chief prosecutor. Before joining Georgian Dream coalition Kbilashvili was a partner in MKD law firm and both, Kbilashvili and Kiknavelidze, were providing legal counsel to GD leader Bidzina Ivanishvili during his multiple court cases against the authorities during pre-election campaign.
There are five candidates in Samtredia single-mandate constituency, among them GD’s Giorgi Kakhiani, an associate professor of law at the Tbilisi State University, and UNM’s Emzar Shubladze, deputy chairman of local town council (Sakrebulo) in Samtredia. Majoritarian MP seat from Samtredia became vacant after Kakha Kaladze became Energy Minister shortly after the October, 2012 elections.
Past experience shows that voter turnout is usually law in MP by-elections; there is no minimum turnout threshold for the polls to be valid.
A candidate winning more votes than others, but not less than 30% will be declared as an outright winner; second round will only be held if none of the candidate garners 30% of votes or more.
If GD wins in all three single-mandate constituencies, PM Ivanishvili’s coalition will have 86 seats in the Parliament.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections (IATF), chaired by Secretary of National Security Council Giga Bokeria and including members from various government ministries, was holding meetings regularly ahead of the April 27 by-elections.
IATF is a body gathering ahead of elections to monitor and react on reported electoral violations during the campaigning. Ahead of the April 27 by-elections, opinion within IATF over specific cases was often split with government representatives in the commission frequently disagreeing with its chair Giga Bokeria, as a result the latter was often issuing his separate recommendations.
In one case Bokeria called on the government to stop airing TV advertisements, commissioned by ministry of education and ministry of agriculture promoting their projects – one involving free text books for school students and another agricultural vouchers for farmers, respectively; IATF chair argued that such ads ahead of elections might be perceived as an election ad on the grounds that they might be perceived as election ads in favor of Georgian Dream coalition. A similar recommendation was made by IATF ahead of the October, 2012 parliamentary elections. In another case, when it was reported that a local police employee in Samtredia was taking part in a campaign meeting of GD’s candidate, IATF chair called on the Interior Ministry to warn its employees that such action constituted violation of law. When a complaint was filed to IATF about reports that GD activists in Samtredia were involved in handing out Agriculture Ministry’s vouchers to farmers, IATF chairman called on the prosecutor’s office to probe into the issue as it might have constituted to vote-buying; other members of IATF from the various ministries issued a separate statement on the same case and called on the government and political parties “to guarantee full separation of party and government activities.”
Three local watchdog groups, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) and Transparency International Georgia, which were monitoring campaigning ahead of the April 27 by-elections, said in a joint statement on Friday that candidates were able to freely campaign and voters were not restricted in their right to attend campaign meetings.
“Cases of intimidation or abuse of administrative resources were mostly reported by the United National Movement but frequently these allegations did not hold up when verified,” the statement reads.