The election day was largely orderly, but the pre-election period was divisive, “tarnished by incidents of violence and intimidation,” the National Democratic Institute’s (NDI) election observer delegation said in its preliminary statement on November 29.
The eleven-member, high-level delegation from the U.S.-based nonprofit arrived in Tbilisi on November 26 and held meetings with government officials, civil society representatives, and a wide range of election stakeholders. On the election day, NDI’s six observer teams monitored opening, voting and counting processes in five regions across the country.
NDI said in its report that the period ahead of the runoff “experienced sporadic incidents of violence, reports of intimidation, and other practices that violated the spirit, and arguably the letter, of election laws.”
According to the preliminary statement, the campaign rhetoric grew “more aggressive and hostile between the two rounds, with messages of fear and threats of instability.”
The observer mission touched upon the allegations of voter intimidation, saying while it is difficult to establish its exact scale, “the extensiveness and consistency of the allegations from multiple sources, and credibility of cases reported to NDI directly, indicate serious action is needed to eliminate this problem from future elections.”
The delegation also noted that the country’s main television broadcasters served as instruments of political campaigns, dividing voters to extremes and limiting “citizens’ access to reliable information about the candidates.”
“Allegations of attempted vote buying and abuse of state resources were prominent,” NDI also said, adding that immediately after the first round of the election government officials and Georgian Dream leaders “made almost daily announcements of state projects and promises of social spending.”
The delegation also spoke on the authorities’ massive debt write-off scheme, saying there was “lack of clarity or transparency about aspects of the arrangement, and little is known about the decision process or finances of the foundation.”
The election day, NDI also said, proceeded “in a largely orderly and calm manner,” with “sporadic, but serious, incidents of multiple voting and manipulation of the count, both directly observed by NDI monitors.”
According to the statement, NDI observers witnessed group and proxy voting, as well as instances of voters with traces of ink permitted to vote, queue controllers failing to properly check voters for ink, and PEC members failing to properly ink voters.
Hopes for the 2020 elections
The delegation hopes that Georgians “will reject the divisive and harmful practices of this election,” ahead of the 2020 parliamentary elections and “work to build a more constructive political environment in which contenders compete on a level playing field and contend on the basis of policy differences relevant to citizens’ interests.”
“Democratic governance is Georgia’s most precious asset. It has set the country apart from its authoritarian neighbors and made possible the prospects for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Squandering this asset would have immeasurable costs. It will be critical that Georgia not allow the conduct of this election campaign to define the country’s political life going forward,” the statement reads.