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US Embassy, EU Delegation assess municipal elections in Georgia

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Tuesday, October 5
The EU and US embassies assessed the October 2 municipal elections in Georgia, emphasizing that the process was generally well administered, but was characterised by ‘hardened polarisation.’ They agreed with the initial findings of the OSCE/ODIHR and said that the participants were able to campaign freely in a competitive environment, and that the election day proceeded in an orderly and transparent manner.

In particular, US Embassy agreed with the assessment that these elections were technically well-administered, but that ‘the environment was marred by widespread and consistent allegations of intimidation, vote-buying, pressure against candidates and voters, pervasive misuse of citizen observers as party representatives, and an uneven playing field, including in the pre-election period.’ While voters were able to cast their votes in a largely calm environment on October 2, the election process is about more than Election Day.

In a strongly worded statement about Georgia’s October 2 local elections, the U.S. Embassy shared ODIHR’s concerns about ‘the polarized media landscape, the significant imbalance of resources and insufficient oversight of campaign finances, the under-representation of women in the campaign, reports of misuse of administrative resources, and pressure against journalists’.

The U.S. Embassy highlighted that 'the continued blurring of the line between state and party resources is deeply disturbing.’ “Significant reports about the misuse of administrative resources during the campaign raised doubts about the overall fairness of the elections,” it stressed.

Statement reads that in many towns and villages, pressure against teachers, law enforcement officers, and other public sector workers reportedly interfered with their ability to exercise their free choice on Election Day, adding that ‘this type of abuse has occurred too often in Georgian elections and is wholly incompatible with Georgia’s democratic and Euro-Atlantic ideals.’

“There is a dangerous risk that these and other recurring election violations are becoming accepted as inevitable. Georgian voters deserve a higher standard of integrity in their election process,” the U.S. Embassy said.

In its statement on the EU Delegation to Georgia, along with Member States’ Embassies seconded preliminary findings of international observers and highlighted the same shortcomings as the US Embassy. The EU Embassy additionally noted that underrepresentation of women in the campaign demonstrates a need for greater commitment to ensure adequate representation in politics.

Both embassies praised legal, electoral changes adopted before the elections which ‘substantially improved the legal framework,’ and called on the Georgian parliament and parties to take steps for the full implementation of OSCE/ODIHR previous recommendations, ‘including those related to limitations on voting rights, some aspects of electoral dispute resolution, and further measures to counter the misuse of state resources.’

US Embassy called on Parliament, including opposition parties, to recommit in good faith to comprehensively strengthening Georgia’s election system; to implement key reforms – including judicial reforms – recommended by ODIHR, the Venice Commission, and Georgia’s international partners; and to pass constitutional amendments ensuring that all future parliamentary elections will be fully proportional, as they have previously pledged to do.

The US Embassy assessed that high voter turnout despite the COVID-19 pandemic was indicative of the continued commitment of the people of Georgia to democracy and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic path.

“Municipal elections matter because the local level is where citizens’ needs and interests are met most directly by their elected representatives. Georgia’s citizens have frequently expressed their desire for a greater voice in decisions that affect their lives. The lack of focus on local issues in yesterday’s elections was a missed opportunity to make progress towards achieving that goal,” the US Embassy wrote.

In the statement, the U.S. Embassy also commended the work of professional domestic election observation organizations, in particular ISFED, GYLA, PMMG and Tl, saying that these CSOs informed the public with sound and balanced assessments throughout the campaign period. The Embassy also expressed concerns about the reports that some of these respected NGOs reported barriers to observing the elections.

Given the second round of elections, the EU called on the authorities and all the political parties to urgently make additional efforts to ensure a fair electoral process. “The reported malpractices must not become a norm. We also expect credible and swift investigations of all complaints, including reported intimidation and violence against journalists.”

Speaking of the second round of elections, scheduled for October 30, the statement called on the Georgian authorities and all the political parties ‘to urgently make additional efforts to ensure a fair electoral process.’

“The EU will remain a consistent supporter of efforts to strengthen democracy in Georgia. We will continue to base our relationship on the principles of respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic standards – values that are at the core of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement.”

The UK diplomatic mission also supported OSCE/ODIHR assessment, saying that issues of concern need to be addressed. The embassy hopes that for the second round of elections, all political parties will campaign according to best practices.

According to the preliminary data of the October 2 self-government elections, the ruling party Georgian Dream has the largest number of votes in the proportional part of Georgia, more than 46%. In second place is the National Movement with over 30% and in third place is Gakharia-for Georgia, which has more than 7% of the vote. Members of various municipalities, including Tbilisi Sakrebulo, will have Lelo, Girchi-more Freedom and Ana Dolidze-for the People.

The threshold for electing Sakrebulo members in the proportional system is 3% in all municipalities except Tbilisi. In Tbilisi - 2.5%

In addition, the second round of mayoral elections will be held in all 5 self-governing cities - Tbilisi, Rustavi, Kutaisi, Poti and Batumi with the participation of candidates nominated by the Georgian Dream and the National Movement. On October 2, voter turnout was 51.92%.