The pre-election environment is “marked by political and social tensions, and economic challenges amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” an interim report by the OSCE/ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission (LEOM) on October 16 said.
The report, covering a period between September 25 and October 10, highlighted that with the exception of the response to COVID-19, the “campaign has centered on personalities, rather than substantive issues.”
“Campaign is prominent mostly in the media and online,” the report stated, adding that many parties reduced door-to-door and in-person campaign activities due to the pandemic related concerns.
The document noted that the reduced threshold for parliamentary representation “has increased the apparent competitiveness of the pre-election environment, with many new parties entering the political arena.”
Further discussing the recent electoral amendments, the report noted, however, that “a number of past ODIHR recommendations remain unaddressed.” “These include the provisions on campaigning, election administration, campaign finance, complaints and appeals process, and recounts and annulments,” underscored the report.
According to the ODIHR mission, several of their interlocutors alleged potential vote-buying, including elements of the government’s COVID-19 social assistance. The observers also took note of September 29 clash between ruling Georgian Dream and opposition United National Movement party activists in Marneuli, where “activists and journalists were injured.”
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OSCE/ODIHR mission also noted that out of newly redrawn 30 majoritarian constituencies, 18 have more than 15 percent deviation from the required equal distribution of voters, while 7 constituencies vary from 10 and 15 percent. “The merger of the electoral districts of Marneuli and parts of Gardabani has reduced the potential for national minority representation in parliament,” the mission added.
Regarding the election commissions, the report stated that while stakeholders expressed varying degrees of confidence in the Central Election Commission’s professionalism, “a number of” the mission’s interlocutors from the opposition parties and civil society organizations raised concerns over the impartiality of lower-level commissions.”
The interim report assessed the Georgian media environment is diverse but polarized along political lines and business interests. Television remains the main source of information for the “overwhelming majority of the population,” while “the broadcast media market is perceived as overcrowded by many ODIHR LEOM interlocutors,” the mission added.
OSCE/ODIHR launched the Election Observation Mission on September 25, with a core team of 13 experts based in Tbilisi, who were then joined by 27 long-term observers, deployed across the country. On October 9, OSCE/ODIHR limited the mission and 350 short-term observers will no longer arrive to follow election day proceedings, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated travel and health restrictions.
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