Alleged violations before the runoff elections require effective response
On October 30, the runoff parliamentary elections will be conducted in 50 districts across the country. TI Georgia is also observing the pre-election period of the second round, putting a particular emphasis on cases of using administrative resources for electoral purposes. Overall, the pre-electoral processes are calm, although the recent days have seen more cases of possible pressure on supporters of United National Movement (UNM) - the opposition party. We are trying to verify the information about these cases. At this point, we should mention several of them. It is crucial that the State respond in a timely and effective manner to such incidents, so that they will not exert a significant negative effect on the election environment and that the procedures of the Election Day will be conducted in line with international standards.
- The use of institutional administrative resources
October 25, news outlets disseminated an audio recording of Valeri Gelashvili, Georgian Dream’s majoritarian candidate in Khashuri, in which he meets with employees of the Khashuri Municipal Administration and demands their support. In the recording, the parties speak openly about using administrative resources in favor of the Georgian Dream’s candidate. Valeri Gelashvili confirmed that the meeting actually took place.
In the first round, Mr. Gelashvili received the lowest support – 20% – of Georgian Dream’s candidates, and he will be contesting the parliamentary mandate against a candidate from the New Industrialists in the second round.
On October 26, at the meeting of the City Council, Shota Murgulia, the Mayor of Kutaisi, called upon the population to support Georgian Dream’s majoritarian candidates in Kutaisi. Although the law does not restrict certain officials in terms of campaigning in working hours, this does not mean that they can campaign while exercising their official duties. In addition, it is prohibited to campaign in administrative buildings, which should be considered as the use of administrative resources. At the same time, the Mayor, who is the head of the executive body, contributed to blurring the line between the State and the ruling party by campaigning at the City Council’s meeting, violating the principle of neutrality of the civil service.
- Cases of possible violence and threats
According to the information disseminated by the UNM, on October 27 Nikoloz Khizadze, the party supporter, was going to attend the party’s campaign meeting in the village of Muskhi, Akhaltsikhe Municipality. The car of Akaki Machutadze, the Governor of Samtskhe-Javakheti, blocked the way of Khizadze’s vehicle, after which Gia Baliashvili, former head of the Municipal Improvements Service of Akhaltsikhe, abused him physically, took away his camera, and left the area together with the governor and the other persons.
What is particularly disturbing in this incident is the possible participation of the Governor and other civil servants. An adequate response of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is critical for prevention of similar incidents prior to the runoff elections. Ministry of Internal Affairs has already launched an investigation under the article of robbery, though the incident may also contain elements of official misconduct.
In Akhaltsikhe two beneficiaries of a soup kitchen said that they had been told by the canteen staff that they would not receive funding to buy firewood and, accordingly, would not be able to prepare food, unless they voted for Georgian Dream in the elections. Due to ethical considerations, we are not naming the identity of the beneficiaries; if the relevant state bodies take an interest in the incident, we will provide them with the names of the beneficiaries.
Following the October 8 elections, the local resource center of the Ministry of Education requested financial information from the school of the village of Karabulakhi, Dmanisi Municipality, whose principal is a supporter of the United National Movement. The principal of the school links this fact to his political views.
Nino Kharaishvili, a UNM supporter, works as a cleaning lady in the public school of the village of Pkhero, Adigeni Municipality. According to her, after the first round of the elections, the school principal, Vladimer Velijanashvili, demanded from her to stop expressing her open support for the UNM, otherwise, he would dismiss her from her job. One of the reasons named by the principal was that he was under pressure from the Adigeni Municipal Administration that had given him a list of UNM supporters working in the school.
Giorgi Chilingarashvili, who had worked as a veterinarian in the village of Arali, was forced to write a statement of resignation, allegedly due to his support for the UNM. According to him, he was forced to resign by Merab Vardosanidze and Amiran Chitadze, employees of the Adigeni Service Center of the National Food Agency.
A former employee of the Tskaltubo Municipality administration, who is also a UNM supporter, was dismissed from his/her job. According to him/her, employees of the municipality administration were employed on the basis of three-month contracts, and he/she was the only one out of 118 employees whose contract was not prolonged. The respondent asked to stay anonymous for his/her safety.
Alleged pressure also took place in the IDP settlement in the city of Zugdidi where a salesperson of a shop told us that representatives of the City Hall (employees of the Supervision Service as he/she supposes) had visited his/her booth and threatened him/her for supporting the UNM. They told him/her they would fine him/her and close his/her booth because it was operating without a permit. They demanded from him/her to vote for Georgian Dream. The salesperson also said he/she had been forced to post the election campaign material of the ruling party on the wall of the booth. The salesperson wants to stay anonymous, as he/she is afraid of being fined.
According to a UNM supporter in Zugdidi, who demanded to stay anonymous due to safety reasons, Valeri Guguchia, who as far as he knows is a criminal authority, came into an argument with him on behalf of Georgian Dream. Guguchia demanded that he stop transporting UNM’s voters by his minibus. Guguchia had also made the same demand after the appointment of the runoff elections.