Chief prosecutor’s office said that it launched criminal investigation into four cases of alleged pressure on opposition candidates to withdraw from the race.
In a statement on June 12, prosecutor’s office said that it looked into 80 reported cases of pressure on candidates, but in 76 cases out of 80, candidates denied that they withdrew from the race because of pressure.
There have been reports of pressure exerted on opposition candidates in more than dozen of municipalities to withdraw from the race; these candidates were mainly in 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 Central Election Commission (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On June 3 CEC removed requirement of minimum number of candidates in party lists from the required criteria so that it no longer represents a reason for annulment of the entire party-lists.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.
PM Irakli Garibashvili denied that the authorities were exerting pressure on opposition candidates as is “utter lie.” Citing prosecutor’s office, the PM said on June 12 that there were only four cases in which “there were signs of certain pressure” and added he does “not rule out” that few isolated cases really took place; he suggested that even if such few cases occurred, they were done upon “own initiative” of certain individuals on the local level and not upon instructions from political leadership.
Prosecutor’s office said that in one case UNM’s candidate for a Sakrebulo seat in Ozurgeti told investigators that his nomination was just a formality and was told by his “friend”, head of UNM’s Ozurgeti branch, that he was able to withdraw from the race later.
Referring to this case, PM Garibashvili suggested that UNM “plotted in advance” this scheme of nominating such candidates in some of the municipalities who would have then withdrawn from the race voluntarily giving a pretext for accusing the authorities of exerting pressure on them. Justice Minister, Tea Tsulukiani, who chairs inter-agency commission for fair elections, also suggested that it could have been the case and called on the prosecutor’s office to find out if UNM plotted the scheme in advance to then accuse the authorities of pressure on its candidates. UNM said that accusing opposition such conspiracies is rhetoric, which is usually resorted by authoritarian leaders.
PM Garibashvili also said on June 12 that “the government is not interfering in the electoral process.”
“We are maximally open and transparent government – I think that the government is more transparent that it should be,” he said and also called on the international organizations, diplomatic corps and election monitoring groups to scrutinize every reported case of alleged pressure.