On August 19, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) released the assessment of the pre-election environment in Georgia, addressing a variety of issues related to the upcoming October parliamentary elections and making 30 recommendations to improve Georgia’s electoral process.
The report notes that although Georgia “has taken important steps forward to ensure greater women’s political participation and has laid out a concrete path toward fulfilling promises of a fully proportional electoral system,” “persistent issues related to electoral integrity have remained unaddressed, fueling polarization and detracting from public confidence in election outcomes.”
According to NDI President Derek Mitchel, the foundations for democratic elections are present, “yet without some demonstrable improvements, a pattern of declining public confidence will continue.”
Major Positive Developments, Challenges
The report highlights positive developments such as constitutional amendments and reforms passed in 2020, including gradual transition towards the promised fully proportional system in 2024, reduction of the threshold for winning parliamentary seats, introduction of gender quotas, and other election-related legislative changes.
However, the report states, concerns remain “about lax or biased enforcement, abuses of state resources and prosecutorial authorities, intimidation and harassment, personalized and polarizing campaigning, continuing exclusion of underrepresented groups, and threats to the integrity of the information environment.” This, NDI says, makes Georgia prone to external interference.
The assessment recommends relevant state bodies to “rigorously enforce all legislation and regulations respecting the elections in a timely and impartial manner,” and to allow credible citizen election monitors to work without interference and intimidation.
Uneven Resources, Pandemic and Party Platforms
The pre-election assessment highlights that, due to uneven financial resources and access to media, the campaign will be dominated by the ruling Georgian Dream party and a handful of opposition parties.
Another important context is the global COVID-19 pandemic, which, according to the report, will potentially affect voter behavior.
Ongoing COVID-related crisis, the report says, may make it difficult to distinguish between legitimate government aid and attempts by Georgian Dream to “curry favor” with voters.
The document recommends the Government of Georgia to ensure “a clear separation between the party and the state” and prohibit the use of state resources for campaign purposes.
The NDI report also finds it difficult to make distinctions among parties’ approaches. It recommends parties and candidates to develop policy platforms focused on solutions to issues that concern citizens.
“Campaigns should also refrain from speech that inhibits pre- or post-election cross-party cooperation or seeks to denigrate public confidence in the process”, it adds.
As regards the inclusion of underrepresented groups, the report says that, despite some progress, “inclusion in electoral processes of underrepresented groups, including women, ethnic and religious minorities, people with disabilities, as well as members of the LGBTQI community, remains limited.”
The report notes that the introduction of gender quotas in party lists was not mirrored in the list of candidates for majoritarian seats, while ethnic and religious minorities lacked access to information and, similarly as sexual minorities, faced vilification.
NDI calls on political parties to develop inclusive campaign programs that address the concerns of these groups.
Media Environment, Information Space
The assessment brings up problems in the media environment as well, mentioning multiple legal challenges faced by government-critical TV channels that create “perceptions of politically motivated judicial interference in free expression”.
NDI recommends authorities to “scrupulously avoid threats or steps that could be seen as politically motivated interference in media independence, including prosecutions of media owners or imposition of “special managers” at telecommunications companies”.
The report says challenges are also present in social media, which “is rife with information manipulation from both domestic and international sources.”
NDI calls on international online platforms such as Facebook and YouTube to work with local CSOs to mitigate information manipulation.
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