On September 29, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), a local watchdog, released its fourth interim report on pre-election environment ahead of October 31 parliamentary polls. According to the report, as election day draws closer, increases in incidents of pressure, threats, obstruction and physical violence on voters, activists, and opposition politicians represent the main challenges of the pre-election environment.
The document, covering an observation period from September 6 to September 28, identifies 7 alleged cases of politically motivated physical violence; 24 instances of alleged political pressure/threats; 8 alleged instances of voter buying; one probable dismissal on political grounds; 13 possible cases of the use of administrative resources; 8 instances of participation of unauthorized persons in the election campaign, and facts of damaging agitation materials in up to 20 municipalities, and districts of Tbilisi.
The watchdog presents findings on a number of possible instances of politically motivated violence, including an opposition European Georgia activist being shot with a pneumatic weapon on September 28 in the village of Sadakhlo – an incident for which European Georgia has pointed fingers at the ruling party.
The report also calls for a “timely and objective” investigation of the clash that took place on September 27 in the southern Bolnisi Municipality between representatives of the ruling Georgian Dream party and the opposition’s United National Movement led bloc.
The document reads that opposition representatives in a number of municipalities have reported attempts of pressuring and recruiting their supporters, making it difficult for opposition parties to seek and employ campaign staff members locally. Representatives of the Lelo for Georgia party have pointed to instances of surveillance of party members, and the presence of local government officials at their meetings, in an attempt to intimidate the party’s supporters, according to the report.
ISFED expresses concern over alleged cases of blackmail through the dissemination of images of private lives targeting female opposition politicians. According to the watchdog, female members of the Lelo for Georgia party and the Strategy Aghmashenebeli party have allegedly been subject to this form of pressure from the ruling Georgian Dream party.
The report also notes that school and kindergarten teachers remain as one of the most important human resources of political parties with frequent attempts to involve them in the election campaign “by various political forces, but, mostly by the ruling party.”
The ISFED document stresses that the possible use of administrative resources by the ruling Georgian Dream party continues to be a major concern. The report cites cases of using municipal resources to install a campaign billboard in western Abasha municipality, funding large numbers of students in Rustavi in the period preceding the elections, and increasing the Zugdidi municipal budget within a 60 day period before the elections – a violation of a prohibition established by the Election Code.
The watchdog also notes that recently selected staff members of precinct election commissions likely have ties to the ruling party, with some staff members being family relatives of Georgian Dream activists and coordinators, while others are civil servants and employees of the City Halls, Assemblies (Sakrebulos), administrative units, and state funded local non profit entities. “It is true that the above does not constitute a direct violation, but casts doubt on the impartiality of these individuals,” the report concludes.
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