Facts of possible pressure and violence, misuse of administrative resources and interference with campaigning in the third interim report of ISFED
On October 25, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) presented the third interim report of monitoring the 2018 presidential election of Georgia. The document covers the period of October 1 – 24, it also summarizes developments that began to unfold prior to October 1 but became known during the monitoring period.
During the monitoring period ISFED identified: 13 cases of possible pressure and coercion; 5 cases of physical confrontation and violence; 7 cases of misuse of administrative resources; 4 cases of possible vote buying; 11 cases of interference with election campaigning; 14 cases of participation in campaigning in violation of law; 40 cases of damaging campaign materials. A case of suspicious donation and facts of resignation of officials in certain municipalities are also worthy of attention.
Attempts of high-level government and ruling party officials to attack and discredit monitoring organizations became even more intense. On October 8, the Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia personally attacked ISFED Executive Director Mikheil Benidze and referred to him as “accomplice of fascism”. The authorities took obsessive attempts to interfere with activities of observer organizations and influence their agenda. Emergence of sponsored smear campaign on a number of Facebook pages aiming to discredit leaders of major non-governmental organizations suspiciously coincided with the statement of the Speaker of Parliament. Executive Director of Transparency International – Georgia was also attacked. During an international conference Minister of Justice of Georgia, who also serves as the chair of the Inter-Agency Commission for Free and Fair Elections, made slanderous accusations against her.
As Election Day drew near, ISFED observers in different regions learned that civil servants and employees of non-profit (non-commercial) legal entities of municipalities were instructed by managers to collect the so-called “lists of supporters”. According to evidence obtained by observers, such lists indicate names of family members and relatives of employees of these budgetary organizations, their personal identification numbers, registration address and electoral precinct number. Person who prepares such list must ensure that people on the list vote for Salome Zurabishvili, the candidate endorsed by the Georgian Dream. These facts, in addition to elements of pressure and coercion also contain signs of misuse of administrative resources. ISFED has also found other cases of pressure and coercion, including threats to cancel benefits for socially vulnerable individuals, unless they confirm to the Georgian Dream coordinators that they support Salome Zurabishili.
Possible vote buying was found in four electoral districts, which mostly entailed distribution of different products and promises about financial assistance.
Acts of interference with election campaigning during meetings of presidential candidates are frequent. Such actions turned into a physical confrontation in Kaspi, Rustavi and Chughureti.
ISFED found 9 cases of interference with campaign activities of Salome Zurabishvili and 2 cases of interference with campaign activities of Grigol Vashadze. Activists and supporters of the United National Movement meet Salome Zurabishvili, the presidential candidate endorsed by the Georgian Dream, outside of buildings where the candidate has her meetings with public and hold rallies while shouting offensive words and holding protest banners. ISFED found a trend of damaging campaign materials of presidential candidates in different municipalities of Georgia. On October 16-17, in Tbilisi and in 28 other municipalities, campaign posters of Grigol Vashadze, the UNM presidential candidate, and the party offices were vandalized with red paint and “KGB” was inscribed. 10 days before the election, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze instructed TbilService Group to remove campaign posters from places other than specially designated areas. Notably, within 10 days after the elections are called, list of places where placement of campaign materials is allowed and/or prohibited should be published. As of now, it is unclear whether the cleaning service is following the list of places where placement of campaign materials is prohibited or whether it is cleaning all areas where there are no special display stands.
As of the date of the third interim report, ISFED has filed 32 applications/complaints with the electoral administration over illegal campaigning, abuse of administrative resources and violation of campaigning rules, including 15 complaints filed during the period from October 1 through October 24. The administration has already made its decisions about several of these complaints. By now, on the basis of ISFED complaints, Ninotsminda and Tkibuli DECs have prepared two protocols of administrative offence in connection to use of means of communication for campaigning purposes.
With regard to illegal campaigning on social media, almost all district electoral administrations acted similarly and did not impose administrative penalty on offenders. Commission chairs take as credible evidence the statements of individuals that have violated law, who are blaming their family members for violating the campaign rules.
Notably, during the reporting period, local self-government high-level officials in Khulo and Poti municipalities resigned. The Election Code prohibits any such staff changes during an election period. These cases raise serious suspicions on whether the officials resigned voluntarily.
ISFED presented recommendations for improving the electoral environment:
• High level government officials should immediately stop pressuring and attacking NGOs and their leaders;
• Political parties should prevent their supporters from interfering with campaign activities of their opponents during meetings with public; in their interaction with voters they should avoid any actions that contain elements of vote buying; they should avoid any illegal calls and promises and urge their supporters not to destroy campaign materials of their opponents; they should refrain from mobilizing coordinators at polling stations and pressuring voters;
• Local self-government bodies should eliminate the practice of instructing civil servants and employees of non-profit (non-commercial) legal entities to collect the so-called “lists of supporters”, forcing civil servants to engage in campaigning and misusing administrative resources. They should abide by political neutrality, eliminate any possible instances of using administrative budgetary and human resources in favor of candidates; they should not allow campaigning by civil servants during working hours and provide their employees with information about duties and obligations of civil servants in the election process.
This report is 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). Views expressed in this publication belong solely to the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the United States Government or the NED