ISFED presented the final report of monitoring the 2018 presidential election
On March 21, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) presented the final report of monitoring the 2018 presidential election. The report summarizes key findings and trends identified during the pre-election, Election Day and post-election period, as well as evaluation of the work of the election administration, the Inter-Agency Commission, the State Audit Office and the National Communications Commission during the presidential election. In addition to the key findings and evaluations the report also provides 42 recommendations for improvement of the election legislation and the electoral environment.
ISFED recommends creating a working group in the Parliament for improving the electoral legislation. Composed of political parties, independent and impartial NGOs and other stakeholders, the working group should have the mandate and trust to make decisions and prepare legislative proposals.
ISFED deems it a priority to reform the electoral administration and revise the rule of composition of electoral commissions at all levels. More specifically, balanced political representation based on parity principle should be ensured in electoral commissions, so they are not dominated by a single party. The reform of staffing the administration by professional members should entail sound guarantees for independence of professional members and their protection against political influences. In the long-term perspective, preference should be given to transforming of electoral commissions into fully professional bodies. ISFED also believes that number of electoral commission members should be reduced at all levels, the deadline for their selection should be extended and it should be mandatory for PEC members to have an electoral certificate. This will help hire qualified personnel and reduce the number of infringements. ISFED also urges the CEC to improve the practice of selecting electoral commission members, to provide a detailed rule, objective criteria and procedures for holding a competition to select professional members of district and precinct level commissions, in order to establish the standard of fairness and transparency of a competition. An open interview should be a mandatory stage of competition.
To limit the misuse of administrative resources, ISFED believes that fewer officials should enjoy the unlimited right to participate in campaigning and canvassing. Further, prohibition of campaigning during work hours should extend to employees of non-profit (non-commercial) legal entities and other organizations funded by the state budget, including teachers and employees of educational institutions. To address the problem of illegal campaigning by social media and the ineffective response of the electoral administration to this problem, the definition of campaigning in the Election Code should be revised to include campaigning by civil servants during work hours using personal social media accounts as a violation of the Code.
Significant portion of the report and the recommendations deal with the problems identified in the complaints process. According to ISFED, the norms that regulate electoral disputes in the Election Code should be revised and ambiguous provisions should be elaborated. When handling electoral disputes, decision-making commissions should not rely solely on explanatory notes of a possible perpetrator, which is used to justify a range of infringements. The electoral administration should stop the practice of narrow interpretation of the law and it should rely on the spirit of the law instead. In addition, the electoral administration should take explicit actions in response to the cases involving conflict of interest of electoral commission members.
ISFED finds that during the presidential election the work of the Inter-Agency Commission for Free and Fair Elections went beyond the frame of constructive cooperation and instead of promoting electoral processes, it became the arena for attacking NGOs. The organization recommends subordinating the commission to the Prime Minister and embedding in the law the mechanisms for monitoring recommendations of the commission and follow-up actions.
According to the report, unlike other recent elections, during the 2018 presidential election, observer organizations had to operate amid unprecedented coordinated attacks of high-level officials of the government and the ruling party, accompanied by smear campaigns on social media. “Such coordinated attack is an attempt to delegitimize and discredit observer organizations and it is far beyond the standards of healthy criticism and business communication, which is unacceptable and it threatens democratic development of the State” – said ISFED Executive Director Mikheil Benidze.
The report highlights the increasing trend of intimidation/harassment incidents, especially ahead of the second round. ISFED urges central and local authorities to eliminate the practice of ordering civil servants and employees of non-profit (non-commercial) legal entities to collect the so-called “lists of supporters”. In addition, all cases that contain elements of physical violence, potentially politically motivated intimidation/harassment, vote buying, election fraud and other crimes should be investigated in a timely, objective and impartial manner.
ISFED report also includes the unprecedented attempt to bribe 600,000 voters and other governmental initiatives that contained elements of abuse of administrative resources.
The International Society for Free and Fair Elections monitored the 2018 presidential election through 1,030 accredited observers nationwide. During the election period it published 4 interim reports, one report of evaluation of the electoral environment and numerous statements. ISFED observed Election Day using the Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) methodology, at randomly selected electoral precincts in all electoral districts.
The ISFED monitoring mission was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The mission was also supported by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany. In addition, monitoring of the runoff was carried out through contributions made by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Norway, the European Endowment for Democracy (EED) and the Embassy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Opinions expressed in this report belong solely to ISFED and do not necessarily reflect positions of USAID, the United States Government, Germany, Norway, the United Kingdom, the NED or the EED.