Video footage from Zugdidi-based Odisi TV channel.
Several leading figures from opposition UNM party and its activists were beaten during a fistfight that broke out close to a polling station in a village of Zugdidi municipality during by-election for a vacant seat in local council on Sunday.
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), whose observers are monitoring by-elections said: “A physical confrontation erupted between [ruling party] GDDG activists and UNM representatives close to the polling station No.53 in the Zugdidi municipality. [GDDG] activists were forcing UNM leaders – Giga Bokeria, Nika Melia, Tengiz Gunava and party’s other representatives, to leave the area adjacent to the polling station; UNM members refused, which was followed by confrontation.”
Television footage showed chaotic scenes in the village of Kortskheli with dozens of people scuffling; in one scene UNM’s Nika Melia was seen being beaten by several men and in another scene Bokeria was punched in the face and knocked on the ground as his supporters were helping him to stand up.
Some men, confronting UNM activists and supporters, were wielding wooden sticks. One UNM activist was seen in television footage with blood on his face.
According to an ISFED observer on the ground after UNM left the area, GDDG activists were shouting: “No place for killers in school [polling station outside of which the fistfight occurred is located in a public school building]” and “victory to the Georgian Dream.”
Observers from ISFED and Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, which is also monitoring Sunday’s by-election, reported that there was only small number of policemen on the scene when the fistfight broke out and they failed to prevent the incident; additional police forces arrived only later, according to observers.
A senior UNM MP Giorgi Gabashvili said that the responsibly for physical assault on UNM members lies fully on the government, “personally on PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili and his master Bidzina Ivanishvili.”
“Those gangs still remain there and not a single perpetrator is arrested,” he said. “This will amount to putting an end to any perspective of peaceful elections in this country and the entire country will fall into abyss if we reach [October] parliamentary elections in this condition.”
GDDG’s general secretary Kakha Kaladze, who is the energy minister, accused UNM of “trying to intentionally make situation tense, staging provocations and trying to irritate people.”
“GDDG calls on the opponents to refrain from provocative actions… We condemn violence and call on our supporters not to yield to provocations because it is in our interests to hold elections in calm and democratic conditions,” Kaladze said.
Election observer groups, ISFED and GYLA, have called on the law enforcement agencies to immediately investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Along with Zugdidi’s Kortskheli single-member district, by-elections are held in eight other single-member districts in various localities across the country to fill vacant seats in respective local councils (Sakrebulo)
The ruling GDDG party has candidates in all nine constituencies and UNM fielded candidates in four.
Along with GDDG and UNM candidates, a nominee from Free Georgia party is also running in Zugdidi’s Kortskheli district, which has less than 2,000 voters.
By-election is also held in one of the boroughs of Tbilisi’s Gldani district to fill the vacant seat in the capital city’s Sakrebulo, where candidates from GDDG, Free Georgia and People’s Government parties are running. There are slightly over 34,000 eligible voters in this borough of the Gldani district.
Two seats are for grabs in Gardabani Sakrebulo in Kvemo Kartli region. Candidates from GDDG, Free Georgia and People’s Government candidates are running in one of the districts and there are only two candidates – from GDDG and from Free Georgia, in another district of Gardabani. There are about 7,100 eligible voters in those two areas of Gardabani municipality.
Candidates from GDDG, UNM and People’s Government parties are running for local Sakrebulo seat in Kaspi municipality in Shida Kartli region. There are over 2,600 voters in the village of Metekhi of Kaspi municipality where by-elections are held on Sunday.
GDDG, UNM and Free Democrats are contesting for a vacant seat in Tskaltubo’s Sakrebulo in the Imereti region. There are about 3,480 voters in this district.
GDDG’s candidate competes with an independent candidate in one of the districts of town of Ozurgeti, where 2,600 voters are registered.
GDDG candidate faces UNM’s candidate in other district of the Ozurgeti municipality, which has over 2,000 eligible voters.
GDDG’s nominee is the only candidate running for a seat in Khobi Sakrebulo in Samegrelo region; there are only 244 voters in the village of Kulevi of Khobi municipality where by-elections are held.