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Joint Monitoring Report on the Pre-Electoral Environment Presented at Today’s Meeting of ‘Council of Leaders’ in Tbilisi Marriot.
1.Introduction:

This document represents a joint monitoring report on the pre-electoral environment by the oppositional electoral subjects. It aims to unite the effort of the aforementioned in monitoring and the evaluation of the electoral environment in face of mounting pressure from the government.
Contributors to the report:

-  ‘The New Right’
-  ‘New Georgia’
-  ‘New Christian-Democrats’
-  ‘United Democratic Movement’
-  ‘Democratic Movement – United Georgia’
-  ‘National Democratic Party’
-  ‘National Forum’
-  ‘Free Georgia’
-  ‘Freedom’
-  ‘Civil Alliance for Freedom’
-  ‘European Democrats of Georgia’
-  ‘Georgian Labour Party’
-  ‘Union of Georgian Traditionalists’
-  ‘Movement – Sheneba’
-  'Political Movement of Patriots and Military Veterans'


2.Summary:

Oppositional political parties/associations contributing to the monitoring report express uttermost concern over the unfair and discriminative pre-electoral environment of the 21 October 2017 Municipal Elections.

The aforementioned issues are due to:

- Changes to the electoral code by the ruling party during the run-up to elections, which gives asymmetrical advantage to the ‘Georgian Dream’.

- Extensive utilisation of the administrative resources by the government for electoral purposes.

- Electoral Administration fully subordinate to the governmental control.

- Unfair preferential treatment of the ruling party in press in general, and on the news programmes in particular. Direct and indirect time dedicated to the oppositional candidates is highly asymmetrical.

- Wide-scale harassment of the candidates and activists of oppositional parties with well-known practices such as interference in political campaigns and vandalising of campaign material.

- Dysfunctional Inter-Agency Commission, encouragement and justification of electoral violations by top-ranking officials, as well as indifference to these issues by law enforcing organs.

Our assessment:

- Electoral environment in Georgia has deteriorated year by year under the current government.

- It has reached a point beyond which, it will be impossible to achieve peaceful transition of the government through democratic means.

- Results of the 2017 Municipal Elections are premeditated.


3.General information:

During the 21 October 2017 Municipal Elections, voters will elect 2058 members of 64 Sakrebulos and 64 Mayors throughout the territory of Georgia.

The ruling party – the ‘Georgian Dream’ has become a dominant political force following the 2012 Parliamentary elections. On 2014 Municipal elections, it took victory in all self-governing entities with 12 Mayors and 59 Governors; took more than 50% of the proportional vote as well as taking the majority of majoritarian mandates. On 8 October 2016 parliamentary elections, the ruling party attained constitutional majority (115 mandates out of 150), in spite of receiving 49% of the total vote.

Pre-electoral environment was plagued by political polarisation and bitter confrontation. The ruling party tailored the new constitution according to its needs, voted and ratified it in the Parliament. One should note that the President’s Administration, all oppositional parties and leading Non-Governmental Organisations, harshly criticised the document. The government, which is absolutely, yet informally, controlled by the billionaire oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, turned down all proposals to reach a consensus. Thus, the ‘Georgian Dream’ single-handedly adopted the fundamental document of the state.


Currently, the greatest threat to the Georgian state is informal rule. The former Prime Minister of Georgia Bidzina Ivanishvili exercises absolute and uncontested influence over the government; the most important political and economic actors; the media and the rest of the non-governmental sector. The latest example of this was Tbilisi City Hall Assembly’s transfer of the state property, on Central square of Tbilisi, to the company owned by Bidzina Ivanishvili at the symbolic cost of 1 Georgian Lari.

4.Legal Amendments during the run-up to elections:

The number of self-governing cities was reduced from 12 to 5.

On 27 July 2017, amendment was made to Georgian electoral code regarding the appointment of electoral commissions and the Chairperson of the Central Electoral Commission, effective from 21 October. Given regulations, to our conviction, gives further advantage to the ruling party, while minimising political pluralism, which in turn nullifies our trust in electoral administration.

Furthermore, we believe that the aforementioned amendment can be used maliciously against political opponents of the ‘Georgian Dream’: to minimise dissent, or to tamper with election results with no adequate oversight.

In particular:
i. Georgian Electoral Code (GEC) 26th Article, Part 2, Paragraph D gives district commissions power to change summative protocols during 24 hours after the vote, based on the obscure “legal explanation and/or other factual basis.”
ii. GEC 8th Article, 8th Paragraph limits the power of the electoral commission to study the statement/complaint, if the chairperson of the electoral commission has issued an order to ignore it.
iii. GEC 91st Article, 1st Paragraph instituted 500 GEL penalty on those who interfere in functions and dealings of the electoral commission.


5.Utilisation of the Administrative Resource:

Utilisation of the administrative resources for electoral goals is unprecedented.
Top-ranking officials regularly take part in pre-electoral events organised by the ruling party, which singlehandedly represents the utilisation of the administrative resource.

- People employed at the public kindergartens and schools regularly take part in the meetings of the candidates of the ’Georgian Dream’. For instance, footage has appeared in the media which confirms, that the deputy-head of the Agency for Kindergartens, Nikoloz Tordadze   directs the Kindergarten teachers to collect the list of supporters of the ruling party.

- Representatives of the government were exposed in harassment of the Muslim Population in the District of Adigeni, Village Irganchai. For instance, the lawyer of the Dmanisi Headquarters of the ruling party, Emzar Petriashvili was forcing the locals to make oath on Qur’an   to  support the ruling party in elections.

- In Zestaponi, 51/02 Shorapani majoritarian district, candidate of the ‘Georgian Dream’ Koba Gochelishvili, personally, alongside with members of his electoral headquarters, took part in road constructions and are actively engaged in political agitation of the ruling party. On   14 October (7 days before the election day), relevant video footage, alongside with complaint, was submitted to the Zestaponi district electoral commission, which set the deadline for ‘investigation’ 15 days later.

- As part of the pre-electoral campaign, with taxpayers’ money, Tbilisi City Hall filmed an advertisement named ‘Made for Georgia’, the scenario of which consists of accomplished projects under the current administration of the City Hall. Furthermore, in relation to the         aforementioned, the violation was registered by the Georgian National Communications Commission.

- On October the 14th, presentation was held over the governmental project on construction of roads in mountainous regions which was headed by the ‘Georgian Dream’ Member of the Parliament, Zakaria Kutsnashvili.

- October the 16th, (5 days prior to election day) saw the opening of the new Metro Station in Tbilisi in which, top-ranking government officials appeared alongside with the candidate for Tbilisi Mayorship.


6.Electoral Administration:

Just like all previous elections, the selection process of ‘independent’ commission members in district and regional electoral commissions was fully devoid of transparency, sparking widespread discussion in Georgian media, as well as among international observers and local Non-Governmental Organisations in their interim reports.

Electoral Administration has become fully subordinate to the governmental control. District and Electoral administrations are mostly staffed by activists of the Georgian Dream and instead of being subordinate to the Central Electoral Commission, they receive orders from regional/district headquarters of the ruling party.

7.Unequal media-environment:

‘Channel Two’ of the Public Broadcaster which offered the coverage to the opposition even in times of unfair media control of the previous government, was closed down prior to municipal elections and all its political programmes were shut down.

The one and only debate between the candidates for Tbilisi Mayorship was held on Public Broadcaster two days before the election day.

Furthermore, the government keeps attacking independent television channels:

Television company ‘Maestro used to be one of the strongest independent channels in Georgia. After the merger with the government-backed media holding, the channel ceased its political programmes and remains idle.

Television Company ‘Imedi’, on the other hand, which was being protected vehemently by the Georgian society in face of undemocratic and illegal decision of the previous government, has now become merely an annex to the press centre of the ruling party. Editorial policy of the channel is wholly dependent on the interests of the government propaganda. The Primetime of ‘Imedi’ is mainly dedicated to two political parties: ‘Georgian Dream’ (49,61%) and ‘European Georgia’ (19,67%). All other parties share the remaining 30,72%).


In ‘Interim Report on the 21 October 2017 Municipal Elections’ of the Georgian National Communications Commission (23/08/3027-22/09/2017), data on direct and indirect airtime of political parties shows clear and disproportionate preferential treatment of the ‘Georgian Dream’.

8.Unequal Financial Resources:


According to the report by the State Audit Office, from 1 July to 15 October, electoral subjects received the following amounts of donations:

i. Georgian Dream’ – 11 640 Georgian Laris (90%)
ii. European Georgia’ – 931 000 Laris (7%)
iii. Rest of the opposition – 430 100 (3%)

Aforementioned figures represent an unprecedented disparity – declared donations of the ruling party are 9 times greater than the rest of the opposition, whereas if we take ‘European Georgia’ out of equation – Georgian Dream has 27 times (!) funds donated to their campaign.

Undeclared, or the so-called ‘black money’, however, plays far greater role. Electoral headquarters of the ruling party funds tens of thousands (according to our estimates 16-18 thousand in Tbilisi and 32-35 thousand in the rest of Georgia) district coordinators during two months of their work (200 GEL to each coordinator per month), including door-to-door programme, which, to our belief, constitutes 16-20 million GEL. Furthermore, logistical support of the aforementioned personnel costs further 35-40 million undeclared Laris to district/regional headquarters, which, in turn, surpasses the declared funding 3-3,5 times.

As of 2 October, ‘Georgian Dream’ has spent 59 000 GEL in wages. According to our estimates, just like the 2016 Parliamentary elections, (when the ‘Georgian Dream’ spent 25 million Laris on its 70,000 coordinators, out of which only 189 900 Laris were declared), the ruling party is planning to spend its undeclared funds on wages for its coordinators.

State Auditor’s Office, on the other hand, the agency responsible for control and oversight, remains indifferent to the issue and is preoccupied by clarification of minor details with the opposition.

The aforementioned issue has virtually evaded the attention of international observers.

Furthermore, sources of undeclared funds paid to coordinators evade the income tax, given the volumes and group nature of the violation, according to Georgian criminal law, this act is considered as a crime with aggravating circumstances.

The governmental scheme for financing a governmental subject (declared or covert) is to award contract to the public procurement without public tenders, in exchange of donations to the political subject. (Information based on investigative journalism by ‘Rustavi 2’ and ‘Studio Monitor’.

For the oppositional parties, on the other hand, it is virtually impossible to mobilise, even basic, financial resources – i.e. bank loans.


9.Harassment of the oppositional candidates:

- The governor of the Zestaponi Municipality Tariel Tutarashvili and the workers of the Security Service have forced the removal of the candidacy of the Shorapani majoritarian candidate of the 'Democratic Movement - Free Georgia' Gocha Laghundaridze.

- Similarly, other candidates of the bloc are being harassed in the same district, as well as in the district of Racha-Lechkhumi (by the head of the local Security Service Levan Jmukhadze.

- We observe the same in case of the Majortirarian candidate of the Municipality of Lagodekhi Shahin Mirzaevi in the Village Kabala.

- At the 45th electoral district of Tsageri, the candidate for mayorship of the 'Dimitri Lortkipanidze - Kakha Kukava, Democratic Movement - Free Georgia' Bezhan Ghurchumeladze, withdrew his candidacy several days before the election. The reason behind the withdrawal of his candidacy was a continuous harassment of him, his close ones and relatives from the current Member of the Parliament, and the member of the 'Georgian Dream' Karlo Kopaliani.

- Several days prior to the election day, across the country, 21 candidates for mayorship and 196 potential majoritarians withdrew their candidacy. The fact that all of them were either candidates of different oppositional parties, or the candidates of the Initiative Group, and none of them were the members of the Georgian dream, is disturbing and questionable.


10.Electoral Disputes:

Just like all previous elections, the selection process of ‘independent’ commission members in district and regional electoral commissions was fully devoid of transparency.

Therefore, so far, only 15% of complaints submitted to electoral commissions has been (at least partially) satisfied, the majority of which relates to minor procedural violations.

One should also note that significant part of complaints submitted (32%) to administrations regarded the use of administrative resources and illegal participation of ineligible people in political agitation. Only one complaint of this type, out of all complaints, was satisfied - the one against the member of the commission appointed by the oppositional party.

Contact Information

Zurab Kharatishvili – Civil Alliance for Freedom
Mob: 577 99 88 58 Email: zkharatishvili@yahoo.com

Tengiz Omanidze – Free Georgia
Mob: 599299338 Email: omanidze24@gmail.com


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