Frequent Cases of Intimidation ahead of the Local Elections – ISFED’s Third Interim Report
Two days before the 2017 local self-government elections, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) published the third interim report of the pre-election observation. The report covers the period of September 26 – October 16, during which the pre-election campaign became noticeably dynamic - ISFED observers monitored a total of 379 public meetings held by electoral subjects.
As the polling day drew near, frequency of such violations that undermine free and level playing field for electoral subjects increased. During the reporting period ISFED found 23 cases of harassment/intimidation; 1 case of dismissal from work on alleged political grounds; 2 cases of violence; 3 cases of interference with pre-election campaign; 6 cases of misuse of administrative resources; 1 case of improper use of a building (facility); 6 cases of illegal participation in campaigning; 11 cases of destruction of campaign materials. Of note are 6 infringement cases identified in activities of the electoral administration.
As the campaign intensity grew, cases of alleged harassment/intimidation and threats on political grounds against opposition candidates and activists dramatically increased. In 6 districts, as a result of alleged harassment, individuals that were registered as electoral candidates withdrew their candidacies, while in 2 other cases candidates reported threats apparently aimed at forcing them into withdrawing their candidacies. In several cases documented in the report civil servants and teachers were demanded to work in favor of the ruling party. In other cases, mostly activists and supporters of opposition parties and independent candidates were harassed. Some acts of harassment/intimidation also demonstrate misuse of administrative resources. Of particular note are acts of harassment and intimidation in Dmanisi and Aspindza where current Gamgebelis have lost the ruling party’s support and are competing against candidates nominated by the Georgian Dream.
We found irregularities in several areas in the work of the election administration. Failure to take adequate actions in response to violations of the electoral legislation by the election administration is especially problematic. Ignoring violations of campaigning rules became a noticeable trend in the complaints process. The CEC failed to adequately evaluate the increasing trend of use of social media by civil servants for illegal campaigning during work hours. Such position of the election administration indirectly promotes violation of the legislation and encourages spread of similar cases on a larger scale. With its decisions the election administration should establish a practice that promotes abidance by the requirements of the electoral legislation.
Social media serves as an important platform for election campaigning, promoting candidates and enticing voters. The campaign of spreading false information on Facebook using sponsored content continues and is noticeably active. Currently such campaigns are directed against almost all mayoral candidates in Tbilisi but the false information spread against an independent candidate Aleko Elisashvili is especially identifiable. To respond to possible illegal donations for campaigning through social media, the State Audit Office should design a corresponding methodology proactively and on the basis of applicable international experience.
A few acts of violence and disruption of campaign meetings were still detected during the reporting period. An attempt by a Georgian Dream appointed PEC member to disrupt a meeting of an opposition candidate in Khashuri is especially alarming, which also amounts to illegal participation in campaigning. Of note is the trend of destruction of campaign materials of the ruling party’s candidate in Ninotsminda District, which allegedly has to do with the fact that the party has nominated a woman as their mayoral candidate.
Publishing the report is made possible by the generous support from the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The contents of this publication belong solely to the ISFED and may not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the United States Government or NED