PM Irakli Garibashvili has been criticized by opposition and election observer groups for remarks in which he said “we will not allow” victory of a political force other than the ruling GD coalition in any city or municipality in the June 15 local elections.
In combination with “dangerous trend” involving withdrawal of opposition candidates from the race in some provinces because of reported pressure on them, such statements effect further negatively on pre-election environment, several election watchdog groups said on June 2 in their joint statement.
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, Transparency International Georgia and Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association said that instead of reacting on and condemning reported cases of pressure on opposition candidates, the PM made statements which “indirectly encourage” such actions.
Observers have reported that because of alleged pressure, up to 50 candidates from six opposition parties filed for withdrawal from the race in 15 municipalities, an increase over the past few days.
Local police officials in some municipalities have been accused by several opposition parties of forcing the candidates to annul their registration. The Interior Ministry released a statement on June 1 “strongly denying” these “groundless” allegations.
UNM opposition party said that PM Garibashvili’s remarks represented an “open declaration of what the authorities have actually been doing for past two weeks covertly” – exerting pressure on opposition candidates with the use of local police officials.
Nino Burjanadze, the leader of a coalition of several non-parliamentary opposition parties, United Opposition, said that with this statement of the PM, the Georgian Dream has “actually made an announcement about planning to rig the ballot.”
“That’s a direct instruction to every local official to falsify elections,” Burjanadze said on June 2. “Even Saakashvili has not made such a statement; although he was actually doing it, but he was clever enough not to speak publicly about intended ballot rigging.”
Energy Minister and vice-premier, Kakha Kaladze, who is also chief of GD’s campaign headquarters, said that the PM was only speaking about GD’s ambition to win in all the municipalities across the country and his “we will not allow…” remark was probably just a “mechanical error.”