Georgia approaches the October municipal elections “with many achievements to its credit, including a vibrant political landscape and overwhelming public support for a democratic future,” the National Democratic Institute’s (ND) pre-election assessment mission said on July 21.
The seven-member delegation from the U.S. based nonprofit, which has been working on political party development and democracy programs in Georgia since 1994, met on July 17 – 21 with country’s leadership, senior government officials, wide range of election stakeholders across the political spectrum, and civil society representatives.
The NDI delegation said in its statement that despite achievements “the NDI delegation encountered two divergent, parallel Georgias, a dichotomy that could undermine confidence in the political process.”
“One, seen through the lens of the ruling Georgian Dream party, is characterized by very few democratic challenges: a free media and political environment; swift and unbiased justice; and reforms reflecting broad input,” the document said.
The other, the delegation added, “held by nearly all the other interlocutors with whom the delegation met, represents a stark contrast: it is characterized by a calculated consolidation of power; uneven and political application of the law; an uneven and unfair electoral playing field; reforms designed to benefit the ruling party; shrinking media space for alternative viewpoints; informal governance; and abuse of state resources, particularly the use of state security services.”
Such a disparity, the delegation believes, “could confuse and alienate citizens and contribute to instability over time.”
The NDI delegation noted several key challenges and opportunities in the upcoming electoral process, including the “controversial” reform processes that are being conducted very close to the Election Day, referring to the ongoing constitutional, local government and electoral reforms.
“Abuse of state resources, an entrenched and longstanding problem in Georgia, remains a widespread concern,” the delegation also said, adding that the Georgian media “faces the challenge of providing the public with reliable, unbiased information about their electoral choices, while the space for pluralistic political discussion appears to be shrinking.”
The delegation also said that the National Democratic Institute will deploy a team of long-term observers, as well as an international Election Day observation delegation for the October municipal polls.