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UPDATED: Watchdogs Warn Against Social Spending Announcements During Campaign

Transparency International Georgia, a local watchdog, said that announcing “new multi-million social programs” ahead of the second round runoffs of the presidential elections “can clearly be characterized as electorally motivated public spending” and actually equals to the use of administrative resources for election purposes.

In a statement released on November 8, the organization said that the government should develop social policy that “establishes a stable social security system without simply relying on raising social benefits during pre-election periods.”

“In order to ensure a healthy and competitive election environment, such programs should not be initiated in the period leading up to elections, since this gives a major unfair advantage to the ruling party candidate,” the statement reads.

[Updated, 11 November] The recommendations were seconded by the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Georgia’s key election watchdog, on 11 November. In its information release it listed eleven separate cases of announcements by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Regional Development of Infrastructure, Minister for Displaced Persons, Health and Social Welfare, the Ministry of Education, as well as the municipal services, where specific, planned social and infrastructural projects and benefits were promoted.

ISFED notes that “the intensive character of promoting such initiatives between the first and the second round of elections, gives impression that the projects advertised by the Georgian Government and some local government bodies are geared towards cajoling the voters, rather than fall into ongoing implementation of the public policy priorities.”

The watchdog notes, that use of the administrative advantage by the ruling party is strongly condemned by the applicable international standards, which state that the ruling party shall not use the state budget or other public resources for gaining advantage in elections. The OSCE Copenhagen Document in particular, in its paragraph 5.4 obliges the states to maintain a clear distinction between the ruling party and the state, the release reads.

ISFED is calling onto the Government and the local government bodies to restrain from managing the budgetary programs in ways, that could be interpreted as the use of public resources for electioneering.

Georgia held the first round of its last direct presidential elections on October 28. The vote results put the ruling party-backed candidate Salome Zurabishvili neck-to-neck with Grigol Vashadze of the UNM-led opposition coalition.

Runoff between the top two contenders has to be held two weeks after the CEC publishes the final vote tally of the first round that is no later than 20 days after the Election Day. This places the latest possible date of the runoff on December 1, 2018.

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