Widespread Intimidation Ahead of the Runoff Presidential Elections in Georgia
ISFED has found that in the period between the first and the second rounds of the 2018 presidential election, acts of intimidation against voters have become widespread; new and unprecedented forms of influencing the will of the voters are used.
ISFED observers in different municipalities have reported that not only civil servants and employees of municipal bodies are pressured, but so are private sector employees and other vulnerable voters. In addition to pressure and coercion, supporters of the ruling party and the independent candidate, Salome Zourabichvili have resorted to different means to ensure that Grigol Vashadze’s supporters do not go to the elections.
It was found in different municipalities that municipal officials are holding systematic meetings with municipal civil servants and employees of non-profit (non-commercial) legal entities, demanding that they support Salome Zourabichvili. Otherwise, they are warned that they will lose their jobs and civil disturbance and confrontation will break out.
Reports on pressure were preceded by meetings of governors with mayors and visits of the Interior Minister in municipalities, which may be connected to the uniform and widespread attempts to influence voters.
In Akhaltsikhe, employs of a kindergarten were forced to sign resignation letters. They were threatened that the resignation letters will be approved if Salome Zourabichvili loses the election. Employees of budgetary institutions received threats of dismissal in Gurjaani and Kareli municipalities as well. In addition, during meetings in Shida Kartli municipalities, leadership are warning their subordinates that if Grigol Vashadze wins the election, civil disturbance and war will break out. They ask employees to spread this information among their friends and relatives.
ISFED observers reported that in Tbilisi, Khashuri and Zugdidi, private sector employees are pressured. In particular, business owners are demanding that their employees hand in their identification documents. These demands are targeted at employees suspected of not supporting Salome Zourabichvili. In Marneuli, a police officer threatened an individual to have his family member arrested and his small business fined unless he stops supporting Grigol Vashadze.
In Gori Municipality, people are contacted by strangers and are told their personal information as well as personal information of their family members, in order to confirm their identity. Such act creates impression that it is done so that the voter believes that their personal information is known for the unknown callers.
In Batumi, individuals were visiting a family for a survey; they identified themselves as the Georgian Dream coordinators and asked about specific individuals that were registered at that address saying that they had not gone to the elections during the first round. This leads us to believe that there are people that go door to door, who know which voters did or did not participate in the first round of the presidential election. According to the law, this is confidential information and it is not clear how these individuals got their hands on it.
Detailed information about all these cases will be made public by ISFED in its third interim report.
Widespread acts of pressure during the period between the first and the second round of the presidential election are alarming. If the trend continues, the intimidation environment could harm the electoral process and the legitimacy of the runoff election. To prevent casting of shadow on free and fair environment for the second round of the elections, ISFED urges:
- High-level officials of the Georgian Government and leaders of the ruling party – to openly and publicly condemn facts of intimidation against voters and urge self-government leaders and their supporters to immediately cease any attempts of influencing voters’ will.
- Local self-government authorities – to eliminate the practice of pressure and coercion against their employees and allow them to realize their constitutional right freely, without any pressure.
- Businessmen and private sector representatives – not to use any forms of intimidation against their employees and to eliminate the practice of forcing employees to hand in their identification documents because this amounts to a crime.
- Ruling party supporters and activists – not to fulfill illegal assignments and not to participate in intimidation of voters.