Reports from ten provincial municipalities that up to thirty opposition candidates, almost half of them from UNM party, are withdrawing from the race ahead of the June 15 local elections as a result of pressure is becoming a pattern that requires to be urgently addressed and investigated, election watchdog groups have called on the authorities.
Withdrawal of candidates has led in some municipalities to cancelation of the entire party list of candidates of some non-parliamentary opposition parties, meaning that they will no longer be eligible to run in proportional, party-list contest for Sakrebulo seats in respective municipalities.
If number of voters in a district is more than 75,000, there should be at least 15 candidates in a party list; if the number of voters is less than 75,000, number of candidates in a party list in respective constituency should be at least 10.
Most of the reports about opposition candidates withdrawing from the race have so far come from Dmanisi municipality in Kvemo Kartli region.
An entire party list of candidates of Burjanadze’s United Opposition became ineligible to stand in the proportional contest for Dmanisi Sakrebulo after five of its candidates withdrew from the race.
United National Movement’s (UNM) party list in Dmanisi is on the verge of being disqualified after five of its candidates have withdrawn; UNM’s party list in Dmanisi will be annulled if one more candidate applies for withdrawal, according to election watchdog groups.
Also in Dmanisi several candidates from Christian-Democratic Party are “being pressured to file for cancelation for their registration,” according to observer groups.
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, Transparency International Georgia and Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association said in their joint statement on May 30, that these cases have already become a trend, triggering “reasonable suspicion” that it aims at canceling entire party list of candidates of opposition parties in respective municipalities.
UNM said that senior local police officials in Dmanisi are behind the pressure on its candidates. “It aims at getting rid of competitors,” UNM MP Khatuna Gogorishvili said.
UNM also said that pressure is exerted on its candidates especially in those constituencies where the party performed relatively well in last year’s presidential elections. In Dmanisi UNM’s presidential candidate, Davit Bakradze, received over 41% of votes.
Nino Burjanadze, who leads United Opposition coalition, said on May 29 that cases of pressure is an “alarming” pattern of pre-election campaign. She also said that this campaign of pressuring opposition candidates to withdraw from the race is coordinated by local police officials.
An entire party list of 11 candidates of Georgia’s Way was annulled in Akhaltsikhe municipality, Samtskhe-Javakheti region, after three of its candidates pulled out of the race, bringing number of candidates in the list below required minimum. According to Georgia’s Way, a party which was founded by ex-foreign minister Salome Zourabichvili, two of its majoritarian candidates running for Akhaltsikhe Sakrebulo from single-mandate constituencies also refused to participate after pressure.
Also in Akhaltsikhe, one majoritarian candidate from UNM party withdrew as a result of pressure from local police officials, according to the opposition party.
Similar reports have also come from Tsalka, Tetritskaro, Borjomi, Adigeni, Akhalkalaki, Dedoplistskaro and Lentekhi, where total of nine UNM candidates refused to participate in the elections as candidates.
A small non-parliamentary opposition People’s Party reported that three of its candidates withdraw from the race in Mtskheta after they were pressured by GD majoritarian lawmaker from Mtskheta Dimitri Khundadze.
Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, who chairs an inter-agency commission in charge of looking into violations during election campaign, told journalists that the commission has been notified about these cases and files have been sent to the prosecutor’s office for examination.
“If confirmed that pressure was exerted on someone, reaction will be strict regardless of who is a perpetrator,” she said on May 30.