Georgia’s three respected watchdogs, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Transparency International-Georgia (TI) and the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) have issued a stern statement, saying today’s announcement of the debt write-off scheme by the Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze, was in all likelihood, “an unprecedented case of vote-bribing, which should be taken up by the law enforcement bodies”.
The statement says the Government’s announcement has the signs of voter bribing in favor of the candidate endorsed by the ruling party, the Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia (GDDG), Salome Zurabishvili, while its scale would undoubtedly affect the election results.
It notes, that according to the Criminal Code “Offering, promising or transferring either directly or indirectly, of money, property, services or other advantages for election purposes, or receipt thereof while in knowledge of its purpose, or striking fake deals to circumvent the restrictions imposed by the law is punishable by prison term of up to three years, or a fine.”
The watchdogs note, that while Bidzina Ivanishvili is not formally among the founders of “Cartu Group” which bought off the debts, he has been publicly associated with it. Additionally, Cartu Group’s officials have linked the decision directly to Bidzina Ivanishvili. Thus, the decision of Cartu Group and of the government would naturally be associated with Ivanishvili and his campaign in support of candidate Zurabishvili.
Noting the potential large scale violation of the law, commanded by “narow party and political interests” the watchdogs note that it would “have a negative impact not only on election environment, but also on country’s democratic development”.
They call on all parties to refrain from populist decisions and on prosecutor’s office to promptly investigate the case.
The Prosecutor’s office was on record telling the media that it will examine this “private deal which affects a significant portion of the population” and would act if there are signs of criminal offense.
ISFED has issued another statement earlier, documenting “unprecedented forms” of voter intimidation in favor of Zurabishvili. Other civil society groups have also voiced concerns over the second round campaign, in which Zurabishvili has been sidelined by senior politicians from the ruling Georgian Dream, including Ivanishvili personally. The runoff is scheduled for November 28.