The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) released on October 8 its second interim report on the upcoming presidential elections, highlighting a number of campaign violations identified in the period from September 9 through September 30.
Among potential violations documented in the reporting period, the authors enumerate the cases of obstructing the work of election watchdog organizations, use of administrative resources, hampering of election campaign and damage of campaign materials.
Violation of campaigning rules
According to the interim report, following the official endorsement of Salome Zurabishvili by the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party, involvement of public servants in the election campaign has become more visible.
ISFED observers described a number of cases when public servants published Facebook posts supporting Salome Zurabishvili or discrediting her opponents. The watchdog said these messages were oftentimes posted during working hours, which, according to the report, is a violation of campaign rules and amounts to use of administrative resources.
The report also touches upon the participation of religious leaders in campaigning. Metropolitan Petre of Chkondidi, who has been a vocal critic of GDDG government, voiced on September 16 political calls against the ruling party-endorsed candidate, which ISFED interpreted as pre-election campaigning. The law bans campaigning by religious groups.
Use of administrative resources
ISFED said mobilization of public servants for Salome Zurabishvili’s campaign meetings were common all across the country.
According to the report, on September 27, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze and Salome Zurabishvili, laid wreath at the memorial of fallen soldiers in Tbilisi; reports and photo materials depicting the event were posted on the official website and the Facebook page of Tbilisi municipality government. ISFED pointed out that this violated article 48 of the election code, which prohibits use of administrative resources during campaigns.
Similar case was observed in Tkibuli, where infotkibuli.ge, a news portal on local developments, released information about Zurabishvili’s campaign meeting. ISFED said Info Tkibuli is financed from the municipality budget.
Obstructing activities of watchdog organizations
The report also underscores that the authorities’ “coordinated attack” against election watchdogs has taken “an unprecedented form” in the reporting period. ISFED deems this “categorically unacceptable,” and believes it could hamper the work of election watchdogs and monitoring organizations.
ISFED reported that it identified eight facts of hampering of election campaigns, targeting the campaign events of Salome Zurabishvili and Grigol Vashadze, a candidate of the UNM-led coalition. It also reported fourteen facts of damage of campaign materials, targeting the candidates of the UNM-led coalition and the European Georgia.
The report also touched upon the audio tapes on the Omega Group-related developments. “The leaked reports on alleged scheme of financing the ruling party undermine the transparency of political finances, cast shadow on political environment and public trust to it,” the report reads.
ISFED called on senior officials to “immediately” stop “pressure and attacks” on civil society organizations; and on political parties and presidential candidates to refrain from mobilizing their supporters during their opponents’ campaign meetings. It also called on public servants to refrain from campaigning during working hours and on the law enforcement agencies to immediately and impartially investigate the alleged corruption deals.