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Presidential Elections 2018: Weekly Digest No.1

On October 28, Georgian citizens will elect their fifth president for a six-year term. This will be the last time that the head of state will be elected through direct ballot. According to the new constitution, which will enter into force following the presidential elections, the new President will be elected by the 300-member Electoral College for a term of five years.

With the Election Day approaching, Civil.ge starts its weekly election digest, a news compilation covering the presidential campaigns, election procedures and other pre-election developments, as well as the shortcomings reported during the pre-election period.

The first digest covers the developments of past week (September 10-16), as well as major electoral developments before the reporting period.

The deadline for parties and initiative groups to apply to Georgia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) for candidate registration expired on September 8, with a total of 46 nominees wishing to run in the presidential polls.

According to the CEC, 20 out of 46 applicants were nominated by political parties, while the remaining 26 are independent candidates, named by the so called initiative groups. The deadline for CEC to register presidential candidates expires on September 28.

Among the best-known candidates are: Davit Bakradze of the European Georgia; Grigol Vashadze of the UNM-led coalition; Shalva Natelashvili of the Labor Party; Kakha Kukava of the Free Georgia; Davit Usupashvili of the Development Movement; Zurab Japaridze of the New Political Center-Girchi; and Salome Zurabishvili, whose candidacy was endorsed by the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party.

Other lesser-known applicants include: Giorgi Andriadze, former parliamentary secretary of the Georgian Orthodox Church; Giorgi Liluashvili of the Sakartvelo party; film director Giorgi Shengelaia; and Mikheil Saluashvili of the Voice of the Nation: the Lord is Our Truth.

Developments before the Election Campaign Launch

Presidential Campaigns – Parties present candidates; President announces election date:

  • Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili announced the date of presidential elections on August 1;
  • The electoral campaign period officially kicked off on August 29, 60 days before the Election Day, with a whole set of legal obligations, among them restrictions on use of administrative resources, coming to force;
  • Political parties and initiative groups started presenting their presidential candidates long before the election campaign was officially launched. Shalva Natelashvili of the Labor Party was the first to announce his presidential bid. He was followed by Zurab Japaridze, Grigol Vashadze, Davit Bakradze, Davit Usupashvili, Salome Zurabishvili and Kakha Kukava;
  • Incumbent President Giorgi Margvelashvili announced that he would not seek the second term in office. The President said he intends to serve his homeland “in a different form;”
  • The European Georgia and the United National Movement signed on July 10 an EPP-negotiated cooperation deal, agreeing not to attack each other during the electoral campaign. The agreement did not last long, however; EG and UNM politicians started exchanging accusations three weeks after the deal was signed;
  • Salome Zurabishvili, Georgia’s Foreign Minister in 2004-2005, joined the presidential race on August 6, with GDDG saying the very same day that the party would not field a candidate for the upcoming polls. The ruling party announced it would support Zurabishvili’s candidacy on September 9, amid apparent intra-party differences over the endorsement, as well as wide public condemnation that followed the candidate’s Russo-Georgian war-related remarks.

Election Monitoring and Violations – UNM speaks of rigging preparations; voters uncertain as Georgia approaches elections:

  • During the reporting period, some opposition parties spoke of possible violations in the activities of the Central Election Commission. The UNM-led “Strength in Unity” coalition accused the election administration of nepotism and preparations for ballot rigging, and demanded CEC chairperson’s resignation;
  • In its assessment of the pre-election environment on July 27, the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute’s mission said that “Georgia’s legislative framework is broadly in line with international standards and conducive to the conduct of democratic elections,” but “a number of longstanding issues that pre-date the current government remain unresolved,” including uneven campaign donations, alleged abuse of state resources and intimidation by various state agencies;
  • NDI also released its public opinion survey, according to which 74% of respondents said they were undecided about the presidential candidate.

September 10-16

Election Administration – CEC assigns numbers, assembles precinct commissions:

  • The Central Election Commission assigned electoral numbers to presidential candidates: No.2: Davit Bakradze – European Georgia; No.5: Grigol Vashadze – UNM-led coalition; No.10: Shalva Natelashvili – Labor Party; No.21: Kakha Kukava – Free Georgia; No.25: Davit Usupashvili – Development Movement; No.36: Zurab Japaridze – New Political Center-Girchi; No.48: Salome Zurabishvili – independent/endorsed by the GDDG;
  • 21,779 persons were selected by 73 district election commissions as precinct commission members at 3,637 polling stations. 43 positions remain vacant;
  • CEC Chair Tamar Zhvania and Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The document envisages closer cooperation for ensuring that the voting process proceeds in peaceful and free environment.

Election Monitoring and Violations – ISFED releases pre-election report; CSOs boycott interagency task force:

  • The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) released on September 13 its first interim report on elections, highlighting a number of shortcomings in composition of precinct election commissions. According to the report, irregularities in selecting the non-permanent members of district election commissions as well as organization of competitions for selecting the members of precinct election commissions were one of the main challenges;
  • The Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) left the sittings of the Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections (IATF), saying the institution fails to adequately address the pre-election violations documented by the organization. GYLA’s Sulkhan Saladze said that under Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani the agency has turned into “a field of retaliation” for CSO criticism of the latter. ISFED, which has been boycotting the task force from the very beginning, cited the very same reason.

Presidential Campaigns – Candidates continue canvassing; GDDG reiterates support for Zurabishvili:

  • Presidential candidates carry on campaigning, with Grigol Vashadze, Davit Bakradze, Shalva Natelashvili and Davit Usupashvili continuing to tour across the regions of Georgia.
  • On September 12, the ruling party reiterated its support for Salome Zurabishvili. At an indoor meeting in Kutaisi, Tbilisi Mayor and GDDG Secretary General, Kakha Kaladze, presented Salome Zurabishvili to local voters, saying the independent candidate would help establish “a right tradition of presidency.”
For the extended background, follow our Tag on the 2018 Presidential Polls

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