Georgia elections: polarized but ‘pluralistic, competitive and well-run’


georgia electionThe ruling Georgian Dream party won a decisive victory in weekend electionsTransitions Online reports:

Georgian Dream captured about 48.6 percent of the vote, and the opposition UNM a distant second place with just over 27 percent, the Central Election Commission (CEC) said yesterday, Reuters reported. In the proportional ballot, no other party cleared the 5 percent threshold to enter parliament.

Authorities were keen on election being seen as free and fair “to avoid a return to the days when politicians tried to seize power by force,” the news agency said, noting that the first peaceful transfer of power in Georgia since 1991 only took place four years ago.

“Strongly competitive and well-run, yesterday’s elections offered an opportunity for voters to make informed choices about their options in a pluralistic but polarized media environment,” said Ignacio Sanchez Amor, leader of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observer mission. “The unacceptable isolated incidents of violence we’ve seen had an impact but, thankfully, did not undermine an otherwise positive election.”

georgia isfedCivil society groups played a prominent role in the electoral process. The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, for example, monitored the pre-election environment in all electoral districts through its 68 long-term observers (funded by the National Endowment for Democracy).

The elections were “held in a mostly calm and peaceful environment, were well-administered, and appeared to reflect the will of the Georgian people,” according to a preliminary report from the International Republican Institute (IRI).

The elections started smoothly, and the vast majority of Georgian voters, poll workers, party activists, and candidates demonstrated their commitment to democracy by participating peacefully in the election process, although in the evening the situation deteriorated in some areas, said National Democratic Institute observers.

Some 51 election districts in Georgia will likely hold a second round of run-offs; 18 of them the capital Tbilisi, DFWatch adds:

After 99.92% of votes have been counted, the governing Georgian Dream party has 48.6% in the proportionate system. This is expected to give them between 45 and 48 representatives, in addition to the marjoritarian MPs. The Georgian Dream leadership is confident that they are going to get a constitutional majority in parliament, which requires 113 seats.

A spate of violence marred the final stretch of campaigning, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting adds. The violent incidents were blamed by Georgian politicians on everyone from Moscow to shadowy forces bent on destabilizing the vote, Reuters adds:

georgia young lawyersIn one of them, a group of unidentified attackers threw stones and smashed windows at two polling stations in the village of Jikhashkari in western Georgia on Saturday night. They also damaged the ballot box and attacked international and local observers on the spot, the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) said in a statement.

The violence came at the end of a relatively calm campaigning period, in which the major parties engaged in their usual political mudslinging, but to a lower extent than in the previous campaign in 2012. But more such incidents were likely to take place in the coming days, particularly in provincial towns, Ghia Nodia, director of the International School of South Caucasus Studies in Tbilisi, told bne IntelliNews in an interview prior to the poll.

Georgia Ghia-200x260“The government is unpopular generally, but people are not supportive of any other party either, so they may make up their minds at the very last moment,” said Nodia (left), currently a Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, said prior to the poll. The UNM’s “high negative ratings continue to be its main challenge” among voters who recall its “autocratic” rule, he said.

The poll was also seen as seen as a test of Georgia’s pro-European credentials and its ability to resist interference from the Kremlin.

A clear majority, according to an opinion poll released in July by the National Democratic Institute, believes Georgia’s future lies with the West, not Russia, The New York Times reported. The percentage is not as high as it was two years ago, but it is still far higher than the 29 percent who said Georgia should abandon its pro-Western course in favor of closer relations with Russia.

While the two main parties remain firmly committed to Georgia’s pro-Western trajectory, for the first time in decades the vote may see one of several small pro-Moscow parties gain seats in parliament, AFP adds.

“If an anti-Western party secures a bargaining power in forming a coalition, that may have a negative impact on Georgia’s bid for membership of the European Union and NATO,” Corneli Kakachia, director of the Georgian Institute of Politics, told AFP.

Regardless of what the political parties may get up to, the electorate has matured. Voters are more demanding and will not be easily manipulated anymore, wrote analyst Tornike Sharashenidze.  Civil society has strengthened and become more self-assured since the 2012 elections.

georgia mapThe IRI 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 key metrics):

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.  

georgia flags“Violence has no place in any election. Although this detracted from the democratic contributions of the many Georgians who had voted and administered polling stations in good faith earlier in the day, it did not appear to substantially interfere with the ability of most Georgians to express their will through the elections,” the NDI statement reads.

Political analyst and researcher of US-Georgia relations Lincoln Mitchell offered his opinion on UNM’s future if the party decided to boycott the official election results, adds. On his official Twitter account he said: “If #UNM actually boycotts parliament because they ran a poor campaign & didn’t do their work, it’ll badly damage their relationship w/ the west.”

While the center-left Georgian Dream was tipped to garner the most votes, surveys suggested that many voters were still undecided, faced with a sagging economy, rising prices, and what critics say are unfulfilled promises from Kvirikashvili’s government, RFE/RL reported.

“We don’t have reliable opinion polls and [therefore] the two main parties are both claiming that they will get a majority in this election, and that could be problematic,” Thomas de Waal, a senior associate at Carnegie Europe and a Caucasus specialist, told RFE/RL.

As political events this year in the United States, United Kingdom, Poland, and Hungary demonstrate, there is no finish line, and there are plenty of opportunities for backsliding regardless of membership in Western alliances, argues Luis Navarro, formerly NDI’s Senior Resident Director in Georgia.

The questions of what the [new] government initiates, how well it succeeds, and whether or not that reflects the public’s priorities can only be achieved democratically through continued efforts towards greater government accessibility and transparency with the media and civil society in order for the public to acquire greater participation and thereby ensure accountability, he writes for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. RTWT.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email