The June 15 municipal elections are marked by improvements to the electoral legislation and administrative processes, but concerns remain about campaign-related “intimidation and violence”, the National Democratic Institute (ND) said in its election monitoring interim report, which also says that “animosity” between ruling GD coalition and opposition UNM “continues to undermine the otherwise democratic nature” of the electoral processes.
The report by NDI, the U.S.-based group which has been working on political party development and democracy programs in Georgia since 1994, covers the period between May 18 and June 6.
“According to civil society representatives, the level of intimidation and political violence has decreased compared to previous elections. However, NDI and Georgian observers report that, since the last election, the severity of political violence appears to have increased, including cases of bloodshed. This case has revived discussions on the need for more assertive responses to such attacks,” the report says, noting cases of attacks on UNM’s Zurab Tchiaberashvili and Nugzar Tsiklauri.
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It says that while Justice Minister, Tea Tsulukiani, who also chairs an inter-agency task force for fair elections, which reviews campaign-related complaints, has taken “a strong position” against violent incidents, other ruling party officials have been “more equivocal in their public statements.”
“Broader and stronger condemnations from government and legislative leaders would send a signal of intolerance of violence and intimidation in the campaign period and beyond,” reads the report.
It has also called on the political leaders to avoid politicizing incidents unrelated electoral campaign.
“For example, UNM and Georgian Dream representatives used recent clashes among Georgian and Azeri youth in Gardabani as a pretext to exchange accusations. These reactions may result in creating tensions among ethnic minority communities,” it said.
The report notes that most parties “appear to be more focused on criticizing or delegitimizing other parties than on addressing local policy issues.”
It says that remarks by PM Irakli Garibashvili, suggesting the ruling GD coalition is the only legitimate contestant in the elections and that victories by other parties would not be allowed, “could have the effect of challenging the impartiality that election and other government authorities have worked hard to establish.”
“They [PM’s remarks] also present the risk of being misconstrued by electoral authorities as a directive to ensure the victory of the ruling party,” NDI’s report said.
Report says that recent allegations of pressure on opposition candidates to withdraw from the race “taint an election campaign.”
About 400 candidates across the country have withdrawn from races for various reasons and in more than 30 of these cases, the withdrawal were allegedly due to pressure from the authorities, mainly local police officials, according to the report, which also notes that NDI “has not been able to confirm the specifics.”
More than 15,900 candidates participate in the June 15 local elections, according to CEC secretary Gizo Mtchedlidze. The figure includes candidates in party-list and majoritarian contests for seats in 71 Sakrebulos, as well as candidates running for post of head (gamgebeli) of 59 municipalities and mayor of 12 cities.
There have been reports of pressure exerted on 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 and Ninotsminda in Samtskhe-Javakheti region where UNM and Nino Burjanadze-led coalition of several non-parliamentary opposition parties were facing annulment of their entire party-lists because of failure to meet minimum number of candidates in the list after several of the candidates 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 lists from the required criteria so that it no longer become a reason for annulment of the entire party-lists. The move was welcomed by some election observer groups, but they also expressed regret that reported cases of pressure on candidates were not being investigated by the law enforcement agencies. The Interior Ministry said that all the cases will be investigated.
NDI report also notes that although the practice of using administrative resources for electoral advantage has “decreased progressively over the last few elections, the issue remains a concern” among opposition parties and election monitoring groups.