Pressure/intimidation remains the key challenge for the election environment
On October 22, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) presented the fifth interim report of pre-election monitoring of the October 31, 2020 elections of the Parliament of Georgia. The report covers the period from September 29 through October 21, as well as individual events that started to occur prior to September 29 and continued or became known during the reporting period.
During the reporting period, ISFED identified:
- 9 possible cases of politically motivated violence;
- 37 possible cases of political pressure/intimidation;
- 2 cases of pressuring media;
- 1 case of obstruction of observer’s activities;
- 10 possible cases of vote-buying;
- 3 possible cases of politically motivated dismissals;
- 18 possible cases of the use of administrative resources;
- 16 instances of participation of unauthorized individuals in the election campaign;
- 3 cases of participation of religious organizations in campaigning;
- 2 cases of large-scale charity projects;
- Cases of damaging campaign materials nationwide.
According to the organization, pressure/intimidation of voters, activists and opposition politicians remains the key challenge for the election environment. Notably, on October 21, owner of TV Pirveli reported that his father was asked by unidentified individuals to abandon his work, or he would be killed. In addition, the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics reported that the current director of Imedi TV Company, Nika Laliashvili was giving Maestro TV journalists instructions about how to cover an issue in a way that would not harm the interests of the ruling party.
Also, in some regions, employees and activists of local branches of opposition parties refused to continue cooperating with them citing that they did not want to have any problems with local and/or central authorities.
Often, campaign meetings of opposition politicians with locals in the regions are attended by Georgian Dream activists and/or local self-government employees. They record the information about meeting participants, which negatively affects the political activity of locals and contains elements of harassment.
ISFED identified instances of involvement of election commission members, clerics and civil servants in campaigning, which is prohibited by law. In particular, they attended campaign meetings in favor of the ruling party or shared/posted GD video ads on social media.
Mayoral representatives in administrative units often serve as campaigners and representatives for the ruling party, instead of being politically neutral in the process of fulfillment of their duties.
In certain cases, business enterprises have taken on the role of controlling the political choices of citizens at the local level. According to an information obtained by ISFED, in Chiatura, political activities of employees of the Georgian Manganese LLC were controlled by the mine director.
Use of hiring/dismissals as leverage for pressuring public school employees, principals and teachers and involving them in political campaigns is especially alarming. During the reporting period, six-year terms of some of the public school principals nationwide expired. Some of them were allowed to stay as acting principals, but the criteria used for these decisions was ambiguous.
In the region populated by ethnic Armenians, the election environment became tense following the statement of the former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, in which he referred to Nagorno-Karabakh as the territory of Azerbaijan. According to locals in Ninotsminda and Akhalkalaki, GD supporters slammed members of the United National Movement as “traitors”. According to UNM, election commission members from the UNM and their supporters are under pressure.
On September 29, in Dedoplistskaro, unknown individuals restricted the freedom of movement and interfered in the activity of ISFED’s observer, who was monitoring an opposition party meeting. The investigation has been launched under Article 151.1 of the Criminal Code of Georgia.
On September 29, during a confrontation outside the Marneuli DEC, political activists, a DEC employee, as well as two reporters and two camera operators of Mtavari Channel and the public broadcaster were injured. Equipment of the two television companies was also damaged. ISFED condemned the physical violence against journalists and called upon the law enforcement agencies to investigate the incident promptly.
Recommendations for central and local authorities:
- The authorities should not allow intimidation of media and journalists and investigate such cases in a timely manner;
- The authorities should investigate the instances of intimidation and harassment of political party activists and supporters, as well as the cases of obstruction of political party campaigns;
- The authorities should investigate the instances of physical violence against journalists, as well as interference in the activity of ISFED’s observer, in a timely and objective manner and hold the perpetrators accountable;
- Civil servants and employees of schools and kindergartens should refrain from participating in campaign events of political parties and candidates during working hours.
Recommendations for political parties:
- The ruling party should not use public sector employees as a campaign asset and should abandon the practice of mobilizing supporters through them, by using their job functions;
- They should refrain from and should not permit physical violence;
- They should not allow pressure/intimidation of opposition party candidates and supporters;
- They should refrain from engaging with voters in a way that contains elements of vote-buying;
- They should not allow involvement of unauthorized individuals in campaigning in their favor.
The report is made possible by the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the European Union (EU). The opinions expressed herein belong solely to the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID, the United States Government or the EU