(UPDATE: adds parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili’s comments in 9th and 10th paragraphs)
PM Irakli Garibashvili has called on the law enforcement agencies to investigate the June 5 incident in the Marneuli District Election Commission (DEC) and accused UNM opposition party leaders of “direct” and “unheard of pressure” on local election administration.
“I know that investigation has been launched and I want to ask the Interior Minister and chief prosecutor to personally oversee all the details of this investigation,” Garibashvili said, adding that everyone responsible should be “punished in accordance to the law.”
He said that the government and the ruling GD coalition are committed to holding of free and fair elections. “This is very important for our state,” he said.
The PM accused UNM of trying to stage “provocations and stir tensions in election campaign” ahead of the signing of the Association Agreement between Georgia and the EU on June 27. “I want to call on every political force to show maximum restraint and not to bring in any unrest to the election campaign. This is a matter of principle for the state; it’s not about any particular political force,” he said.
Interior Minister, Alexander Tchikaidze, said that investigation is ongoing and suggested that charges into this case will be brought after the elections as there is a moratorium on legal proceedings against political activists before the June 15 local elections.
A chairman of District Election Commission (DEC) in Marneuli of Shida Kartli region was confronted on June 5 by opposition UNM party leaders, who tried in vain to prevent him from canceling registration of UNM candidate Akmamed Imamquliyev, who bids for post of head (gamgebeli) of Marneuli municipality in the June 15 local elections. Gigi Ugulava, who is UNM’s chief of election campaign, was shouting at chairman of DEC: “I promise you that you will regret this decision very much.” On June 6 Ugulava apologized to the public and said he “did not like” when he watched himself later on TV. Shouting “is not nice,” he said.
UNM leaders say that first and foremost the origins of the incident should be investigated, involving pressure on UNM gamgebeli candidate in Marneuli, which UNM says, aimed at persuading him to withdraw from the race. UNM also claims that pressure was exerted on Marneuli DEC chairman, including by local police officials, to cancel registration of Imamquliyev.
UNM MP Khatuna Gogorishvili said on June 5 that parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili was also involved in trying to persuade UNM to withdraw its Marneuli gamgebeli candidate from the race; MP Gogorishvili said that Usupashvili conveyed this message during a meeting with her on May 12.
In a written statement on June 6, parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili denied MP Gogorishvili’s allegations. “I declare with full responsibility that during that meeting there was no mention of any name and no discussion of any candidate’s rating or success probability took place,” Usupashvili said and added without specifying: “Conversation involved avoiding possible threats that could be damaging to country’s national interests and [conversation did not involve] specific individuals.”
“Despite of completely undignified speculation, I will not and cannot speak in details about this or any other dozens of meetings during which numerous sensitive state or political issues have been discussed with the United National Movement or other political groups. I would not wish other either to appear in such a political agony where elementary responsibility of a citizen, human dignity and discreet is lost,” Usupashvili said, adding that he will not engage in further debates on this matter.
DEC chairman annulled Imamquliyev’s registration, citing that the candidate is not meeting two-year residency requirement. Imamquliyev denied that he’s failing to meet residency requirement and said that he was occasionally leaving the country because of business trips. He said that the authorities want him out of the race because he is a frontrunner.
UNM will appeal decision to the Central Election Commission (CEC) and if the latter upholds the ruling, it then can be appealed to the court. UNM argues that in a similar case CEC upheld registration of GD mayoral candidates in Poti and Rustavi, when their compliance with residency requirements was also questioned.
There have been reports of pressure exerted on up to 50 opposition candidates in more than dozen of municipalities to withdraw from the party-list, proportional contest for Sakrebulo seats in respective municipalities. Many of those reports were coming from Dmanisi in Shida Kartli region where UNM and Nino Burjanadze-led coalition of several non-parliamentary opposition parties were facing annulment of their entire party-list, because of failure to meet minimum number of candidates in the list after several of them pulled out from the race. GD ruling coalition, which was denying allegations of pressure on candidates, called on the CEC to amend the rule in order to prevent annulment of party lists. On June 3 CEC removed requirement of minimum number of candidates in party list from the list of criteria – the move was welcomed by some election observer groups, but they also expressed regret that reported cases of pressure on candidates was not being investigated by the law enforcement agencies.
The co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the monitoring of Georgia, Michael Aastrup Jensen and Boriss Cilevičs, expressed concern over the “pattern and number of opposition candidates in the local elections who have withdrawn their candidature, allegedly under pressure.”
“It is clear that the withdrawal of candidates for an election under pressure has no place in a democratic society, and it would be unacceptable if that had taken place”, the co-rapporteurs said in their statement on June 6.