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Georgia’s Parliamentary Elections: "Mostly Peaceful and Another Step Forward in Georgia's Democratic Journey"

October 9, 2016

Tbilisi, Georgia—In its preliminary report released today, the International Republican Institute (IRI) concluded that Georgia’s October 8 parliamentary elections were “held in a mostly calm and peaceful environment, were well-administered, and appeared to reflect the will of the Georgian people.” The report also noted that the October 8 vote was but one step in a process that would include a number of run-off contests, and IRI urged Georgians to take an orderly, deliberate approach to political competition in the days following the first round. (See IRI’s Election Snapshot for more detail). 

"In the face of political tensions at home and ever-present pressure from outside its borders, it was encouraging to see Georgians participate in these elections, whether as voters, candidates, party agents or election officials," said Ambassador Mark Green (ret.), president of IRI and chairman of the Institute's international observation team. "We hope that same approach and level of engagement will take place in the coming weeks."

IRI Long and Short-Term Observers Note Largely Well-Administered Process, With Room for Improvement

IRI's report is based on the observations of 20 teams of short and long-term observers from 14 different countries. The Election Day observers visited more than 200 polling stations across Georgia, in both rural and urban areas. IRI’s observers also included two teams of observers in Ukraine observing polling at the Georgian Embassy in Kyiv. Those observers reported a calm and orderly environment.

IRI’s international delegation of short-term observers was led by Ambassador Green, a former U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania and former Member of Congress; Barry Jackson, former assistant to President George W. Bush and Board member of the National Endowment for Democracy; and Judy Van Rest, executive vice president of IRI and founder of IRI’s global Women’s Democracy Network (WDN). The delegation also included parliamentarians and party officials from the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Germany, Sweden and Poland.

The short-term observers deployed to Georgia on October 5 for briefings with political parties across the spectrum of Georgian politics, as well as government officials such as Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and President Giorgi Margvelashvili. These teams deployed in both rural and urban locations across Georgia, monitoring polling stations on Election Day.

IRI’s long-term observers have been on the ground in Georgia since August 1, conducting more than 1,000 interviews and meetings with election stakeholders throughout the country. Their areas of formal deployment included: Ajara, Samegrelo, Imereti, Samtskhe- Javakheti, Kvemo-Kartli and Kakheti. The observers released interim reports of their findings in September and October.

The long-term observers found that conditions were largely in place for well-administered and peaceful elections, but also noted the rising tensions between parties in the pre- election environment, the deficit of women candidates and the dearth of sufficient accommodations for persons with disabilities.

Responding to requests for the Institute to continue observing the conduct of the Georgian elections as they move into their second round, Ambassador Green has pledged that IRI’s long-term observers would remain in the country until the entire election period is completed.

"Although October 8 represented the first and most important step in these elections, we all realize that much work and many steps will need to take place before overall elections can be deemed a complete success," said Green. "We sincerely hope that the days ahead will see Georgians and their political leaders acting in a calm, deliberate manner, keeping the country’s democratic goals in mind. We believe that IRI’s long-term observers can play a constructive role in that process."

Scattered Incidents Mar Largely Peaceful Process

While the elections—and the four months of the pre-election period—were largely peaceful, there were several disturbing incidents. Election Day saw one major episode of election-related violence in the Marneuli district and a smaller incident in Kutaisi. In addition, there were two cases reported in the Samegrelo region, which resulted in annulled results in the precincts of Jikhashkari and Ganmukhuri.

The elections were held just days after the car bombing of a Georgian member of parliament in Tbilisi. Set against the backdrop of a legacy of distrust and rising tensions between Georgia’s political parties, the attack has raised fears of more electoral violence. With the exception of these troubling incidents, many concerns appear to have been allayed by the mostly calm electoral process reported by IRI’s delegates and other international observers.

“Needless to say," said Green, "We strongly urge the Georgian government to thoroughly and objectively investigate the facts surrounding these incidents, bring perpetrators to justice and take the appropriate steps to ensure that such anti-democratic actions never reoccur.”

IRI Concerned Over "Culture of Mistrust"

IRI noted that the culture of mistrust between political parties undermines Georgia’s continuation on the path to democracy. During pre-election meetings with political party officials and candidates, observation teams heard multiple accusations from all sides, which create a level of fear and mistrust amongst party members and voters far out of line with the teams’ actual observations of Election Day activities.

The actions used by leading political parties to undercut each other compromise the political process. Tactics such as the use of administrative resources for campaign activities; the stacking of PECs; the misuse of NGOs for party purposes; and accusations of plans to disrupt Election Day proceedings corrodes voter confidence in the transparency of the system and the sanctity of their vote. The continuation of these practices by the parties risks destroying the confidence the Georgian people have placed in their democracy.

Role of Women: Some Good News, But Much Work to Be Done

IRI's report took special note of the role of Georgian women in the country's political process. As in recent elections, nearly 70 percent of electoral commission members in these elections were women, and women occupied some key leadership positions in the polling stations. In addition, women served in many places as party and candidate agents. At the same time, women were noticeably underrepresented as candidates. Only 155 of 911 majoritarian candidates in the first round were women, and women candidates comprised 1,330 of 3,592 candidates who competed in proportional contests.

IRI Delegation Co-leader Judy Van Rest, who launched IRI's global Women's Democracy Network more than a decade ago, noted, "Georgian women play an irreplaceable role in the conduct of the electoral process. Imagine the transformative effect they could have if they are even more involved in leadership roles in parties and in government. This should be an important priority going forward."

Imperfect, but Improved Election Procedures and Administration

In its long-term observer reports, IRI noted the concerns of some election stakeholders regarding the methods for selecting Precinct Election Commission (PEC) members.

However, short-term observers found limited evidence to support claims of bias in the conduct of commission members on election day. The majority of PECs observed were fully-staffed, well-trained and executed their procedures effectively, with IRI observers reporting that 95 percent of the precinct commissioners had a “good knowledge of their duties and responsibilities,” and 95 percent of the commissions observed procedures correctly. Polling stations have continued to demonstrate improvements since previous elections.

There were reports of campaign materials present in some polling stations in violation of the electoral law, but these appear to be isolated incidents. In some locations, party agents and candidate agents exceeded their authority in ways that include the intimidation of commission members, resulting in disruptions to the counting process. IRI observers noted that some polling election facilities were too small in size to accommodate the number of voters and observers, leading to bottlenecks and making it difficult at times for commissioners to perform their duties efficiently.

One notable exception to the efficient administration of the elections was the counting and tabulation process. Voters expect and deserve accurate and timely results after casting their ballots. This is hindered by inefficiencies in the counting of ballots within the PECs, non-transparent and slow reporting of results by the Central Election Commission (CEC), and exit surveys tainted by assumptions of bias, and in some cases falling short of professional standards.

Persons with Disabilities: Much Work Remains to be Done

IRI’s delegates noted that 71 percent of polling stations they observed on Election Day were not fully accessible to persons with disabilities. This finding is consistent with the initial reports of IRI’s long-term observers. Going forward, Georgia needs to take significant steps to create an inclusive environment in which citizens with disabilities are able to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

Policy Recommendations

·      Many observers noted that the polling facilities were too small to allow for the efficient processing of registration and voting. The CEC should undertake a review of the types of facilities available for use by PECs.

·      The CEC must take steps to provide better accommodation for the needs of disabled and aged voters, with the objective of providing 100 percent access to polling stations.

·      The CEC needs to enhance procedures for the tabulation of ballots in polling stations in order to improve efficiency, transparency and to shorten the time involved in the counting of votes.

·      The Georgian parliament needs to thoroughly investigate and take appropriate actions to strengthen laws prohibiting the abuse of administrative resources during the pre-election period.

·      The CEC should create expanded enforceable boundaries around polling places to prevent voter intimidation and congestion in voting areas.

IRI Short-Term Observation Mission Delegates

·      Delegation Chairman: Ambassador Mark Green, President, IRI

·      Judy Van Rest, Executive Vice President, IRI

·      Barry Jackson, Managing Director, The Lindsey Group; Strategic Advisor, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck

·      Victor Ashe, Chair, U.S. Conference of Mayors; Former United States Ambassador to Poland

·      Graham Evans, Member of Parliament, United Kingdom

·      Eva Gustavsson, Managing Director of the Jarl Hjalmarsson Foundation; International Director of the Swedish Moderate Party

·      Mariia Ionova, Member of Parliament, Ukraine

·      James Kirchick, Fellow, Foreign Policy Initiative

·      Agnieska (Aga) Pomaska, Member of Parliament, Poland

·      Phillip Hansen, Head of Political Unit, ALDE Party, Germany

IRI Long-Term Observers

Team 1: Samegrelo (Zugdidi)

·      Roger Bryant

·      Gabriele Cekuole

Team 2: Ajara & Guria (Batumi)

·      Milan Kuksa

·      Jessica Nash

Team 3: Imereti (Kutaisi)

·      Marko Logar

·      Sonia Mickevicius

Team 4: Samtskhe-Javakheti (Akhaltsikhe)

·      Rachel Santos

·      Slawomir Szyska

Team 5: Kvemo Kartli (Rustavi)

·      Lora Bulat

·      Zoran Ilievski

Team 6: Kakheti (Telavi)

·      Matteo Bezzi

·      Jeremy Pine

IRI Senior Staff

·      Stephen Nix, IRI Regional Director, Eurasia

·      Andrea Keerbs, IRI Resident Country Director, Georgia

IRI in Georgia

IRI has worked in Georgia since 1999, supporting the development of a multi-party political system and helping parties to build their regional party structures. The team works under the leadership of Resident Country Director Andrea Keerbs and IRI Regional Director for Eurasia Stephen Nix.

Using reputable, methodologically-sound public opinion polling, IRI works with all the major parties to develop more positive, issue-based platforms and campaigns. IRI helps to strengthen electoral processes by conducting international election observation missions—most recently for the 2012 parliamentary and 2013 presidential elections, and assessment missions for both rounds of the 2014 local elections.

Under the terms of a Cooperative Agreement with the United States Agency for International

Development’s (USAID) Office of Democracy and Governance, IRI deployed six teams of long- term and 14 teams of short-term observers to monitor and report on the pre-election environment and Election Day activities in population centers across Georgia. The teams are responsible for cataloging complaints regarding voter intimidation, voter list errors, and other election-related irregularities on Election Day, and verifying the claims when possible.

Special thanks: IRI wishes to thank USAID for its support in this observation mission, as well as in our ongoing work in Georgia. Additionally, we wish to thank the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi for its assistance, both in election day preparations and throughout the period of IRI’s work in Georgia. IRI also thanks the Hjalmarsson Foundation for its contribution.