Tbilisi, Georgia – It is clear that the supporters of major political parties, civil society and the press actively participated in the elections with skill, determination and passion. The Georgian glass of democracy, however, remains only half full. Sadly, the Georgian government and the Central Election Commission (CEC) did not diligently train the local election commissions and produced a seriously flawed list of registered voters. Their poor performance has generated a great deal of confusion and anxiety among voters. Common Georgian citizens, however, worked hard to overcome these administrative shortcomings.
It is too early to definitively judge these elections. Their credibility, however, may depend on how many voters were turned away, and how the government, the political parties and the voters respond to this situation. IRI expects these disputes to be peacefully resolved through the new provision in the election law giving citizens and political parties immediate access to the courts.
IRI Observation Delegation
The delegation consisted of political campaign veterans, regional experts, and experienced IRI staff. The delegation included Dr. Charles Fairbanks, director of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute at the Johns Hopkins University, Zeyno Baran of the Nixon Center, Daniel McKivergan of the Project for a New American Century and Auren Hoffman of the Stonebrick Group. The Institute deployed 11 teams to eight different provinces to observe vote casting and counting procedures. The provinces included Kutaisi, Poti, Rustavi, Telavi, Gori, Marneuli, Akhaltsikhe and Tbilisi.
On October 31 and November 1, IRI observers met with regional political party leaders, local media representatives and election officials. These meetings provided important background information on the issues that could affect the degree to which voters would be able to make free and informed choices at the voting booths. This IRI election observation mission was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
IRI in Georgia
IRI has conducted programs in Georgia since 1998 to facilitate this country’s transition to a competitive multi-party democracy. The Institute has trained thousands of political activists and most political parties in Georgia. IRI aims to enable parties to communicate their message to a broader cross-section of society on substantive issues.
The November 2 parliamentary elections were the third held by Georgia since achieving independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The past two national elections, the 2000 presidential and the 1999 parliamentary, proved that the democratic election process in Georgia was far from impartial and transparent. However, local elections in 2002 were quite different. Though poorly administered, the election drew a high voter turnout and no single party dominated, demonstrating that a healthy multi-party system is finally forming in Georgia.
Traditional problems of Georgia’s political system include:
- Inaccurate voter lists;
- Lack of faith in the competence and objectivity of elections officials;
- Dominance of the administrative and media apparatus by the ruling party; and
Political parties dominated by personalities, not ideas.
These 2003 elections are the first parliamentary elections under the new election code adopted in 2001 and amended in 2003. The Unified Election Code offers significant improvements over previous election legislation, but still needs improvements. The challenge for these elections was to ensure that the district election commissions correctly implement the new regulations at the local level.
The CEC, which was formed in 1995, has not enjoyed the trust of the Georgian public. It has not been adequately funded, and its appointees have traditionally been considered loyal to the incumbent government. This has significantly undermined the public’s confidence in this administrative body.
The new Unified Election Code required the formation of a new Central Election Commission prior to this election. As new commissioners were being vetted, opposition parties vigorously objected to the low level of representation on the Commission being allotted to them.
The government of Georgia was able to reach consensus with the opposition parties on the formation of the Central Election Commission after former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker presented a plan this summer for incorporating representatives from all relevant parties onto the Commission. The continued dominance, however, by parties associated with the government remained a persistent problem at the CEC and particularly the district election commissions.
Georgia enjoys a vibrant news media culture of numerous outlets and opinions. Most Georgian citizens received their information on the parliamentary elections via national television. Georgian state television provided disproportionate coverage of pro-government candidates. Nonetheless, opposition candidates were able to gain access to voters through Georgia’s independent media channels.
Inaccurate or manipulated voter registration lists have been a constant problem since the first Georgian election in 1990 and were expected to be a main obstacle to transparent and open elections again this year.
In Spring 2003, the government of Georgia authorized the creation of an electronic database of registered voters. By September 2003, however, an audit of the new list showed serious flaws. Entire city blocks, for example, were excluded from the database, and with them thousands of eligible voters.
As a result, Georgia held national elections using handwritten voter lists, which in addition to being an archaic and inefficient method, may have deprived legitimate voters of their right to vote, and increased the opportunities for fraud and manipulation. Before the elections CEC Chairwoman Nana Devdariani announced an optimistic estimate of a 10-15 percent margin of error in the voter lists.
Georgia still lacks a systematic voter registration process that would guarantee the maximum number of checks and balances against multiple voting. It is incumbent upon the CEC now to use all available resources to ensure that the voter list is thoroughly reviewed and revised as necessary prior to the 2005 presidential election.
The failed attempt to improve voter lists had the anticipated results on Election Day. IRI’s observers reported eligible voters being denied the right to vote due to faulty and incomplete voter lists. Some polling stations received two or three different sets of lists. In several instances, polling station commissioners had to check with district election officials to confirm which lists to use after voting was well underway. In Rustavi, opposition political parties insisted that polling stations use lists they themselves had created, which led to heated exchanges between the officials and party members. In Tbilisi, voters were not on voter registration lists and were denied their right to vote.
Most election officials and workers pursued their tasks with great sincerity. Nonetheless, IRI observed a systemic failure of the CEC to effectively train local commissioners to do their jobs properly. Commissioners lacked basic resources, such as sufficient voter marking ink, sufficient size or number of ballot boxes, security seals, bags to transport counted ballots, and protocols for the referendum vote. IRI observers noted significant confusion and chaos not only during the lottery and opening of polling stations, but throughout the day as well. There was significant variation between the way polling stations opened and closed, despite the existence of explicit procedures spelled out in election law.
The regulations themselves were part of the problem. For example, the process for voting required multiple steps, stamps and signatures – almost guaranteeing that poll workers would circumvent the rules not necessarily out of malfeasance, but simply to alleviate delays and long lines of impatient voters.
Of significant concern was the late decision made in Rustavi to continue with the elections as regularly scheduled. It was not until the evening of November 1 that the CEC made the final decision not to postpone the Rustavi elections. This last minute administrative decision led to major delays in preparations at polling stations across the region.
Poor administration of the election process in Kutaisi prevented voters of that region from exercising their right to vote. IRI observers witnessed that several polling stations did not begin receiving their ballots until 10:30 a.m. on Election Day, and some stations received them as late at 12:30 p.m. Dozens of voters who had waited at the polling stations were told to return later in the day, resulting in heightened tensions.
In Tbilisi, some polling stations were ordered not to open or did not receive ballots at all. Chaotic polling stations along with open voting booths had a seemingly intended effect of intimidating many voters. In Gori, a polling station closed early at 4:30 p.m. According to commissioners there, the station ran out of ballots after only 60 people voted.
In Marneuli, IRI observed a PEC chairman marking ballots for voters. Several polling stations in the region did not ink fingers, and IRI witnessed some people voting multiple times.
In each of IRI’s observer regions, PEC’s did not have sufficient numbers of ballots or envelopes. PEC’s throughout Tbilisi and in other regions did not properly display protocols and voting procedures as required by the Unified Election Code.
Language was also a problem. Armenian voters in Marneuli and other regions could not read the ballots in Georgian language.
There was confusion throughout Election Day on the correct procedures for military voting. Last minute changes on Election Day allowed internal police and military troops to vote for single mandate candidates, contrary to the Unified Election Code.
The presence of dedicated Georgian monitoring groups was a positive aspect of the elections. Representatives of Generation and Fair Election, among other groups, contributed to attempts toward greater transparency.
To conclude, Georgia is a country of great importance to the United States. As early as February 2003, Georgian officials appeared focused on improving voter lists and took several steps toward improving the conduct of elections. It is clear from these elections, however, that the government and the CEC did not complete their responsibilities. The elections fell short on several marks. In addition to not sufficiently training election commissioners, the CEC failed to distribute ballots in a timely manner to outright attempts to engage in fraudulent activities.
IRI is committed to working with the Georgian people and our partners in the international community, such as the Organization for Security and Cooporation in Europe ,to improve Georgia’s progress towards democracy. IRI encourages the government of Georgia and the political parties to take every legal step necessary to improve the election process during the next 12 months. This is essential in order to be ready for the April 2005 presidential election. By putting in place professionally trained election commissions whose members reflect the new composition of parliament, and finally producing an automated, accurate and full list of voters, the government and CEC can go a long way to filling Georgia’s glass of democracy.Top