The International Republican Institute (IRI), on October 29, released pre-election findings of its Technical Election Assessment Mission (TEAM), naming incidents of campaign violence, including against journalists, abuse of administrative resources, State Audit Office’s limited capacity to investigate corrupt campaign financing and a highly polarized media landscape as some of the key shortcomings that need to be addressed.
The report covers the pre-election period from September 30 to October 28 and it is the first in a series of publications assessing the conduct and integrity of the electoral process.
The IRI report takes note of the clashes in the Marneuli Municipality between the representatives of the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party and the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party, adding that the proximity of the Marneuli DEC to local ruling party headquarters “diminishes public trust in the local DEC and contributes to a tense political atmosphere.”
IRI analysts also draw attention to the allegedly politically motivated arrests of two former members of the State Commission on Delimitation over ceding lands to Azerbaijan.
Analysts also say they have been made aware of civil servants actively campaigning or appearing at campaigns during official working hours, and of the politicization of social services and medical supplies following the COVID-19 outbreak.
Citing local watchdog reports, IRI analysts claim that 250 election-related violations were submitted to the DEC, adding it was widely alleged that complaints filed to DEC/PECs were often rejected on grounds of bureaucratic inaccuracies. Also according to the report, there were allegedly 72 cases of election-related violations under investigation by the Interior Ministry, out of which, to date, only two “were found to have sufficient evidence and legal merit by the Prosecutor’s Office.”
Stressing that the election of PEC members who were appointed as members by a political party in the previous general election is a violation of the Election Code, the IRI report underscores that 94 complaints were submitted alleging that previous PEC political appointees were elected as nonpartisan PEC members in 2020, out of which all 94 complaints were rejected.
IRI notes GD party’s revenues and expenditures “were significantly higher than those of all the opposition parties combined”, adding that analysts received “several reports” of an alleged connection between companies securing victory in large state tenders and their donations to the ruling party.
The report also draws attention to the release of a private dossier that included allegations of the pro-Kremlin Alliance of Patriots party receiving donations from sources connected to Russian intelligence, adding that the Prosecutor’s Office has not opened an investigation into the allegations despite opposition parties’ appeals.
IRI commends the State Audit Office (SAO) for its constructive engagement with civil society, but notes that it is “persistently under-resourced”, inhibiting its ability to effectively investigate corrupt campaign financing.
The media landscape in Georgia is “highly polarized” and “tightly connected to past and present political actors or business groups”, according to the report, with main news sources often being perceived as pro-government or pro-opposition. Citizens are prevented from getting a comprehensive picture of available political options, IRI analysts assert, as political actors refuse to engage in issue-based debates, and exchange mutual accusations instead.
The report also notes that an amendment to the Electronic Communications Act which allowed the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) to appoint a “special manager” at telecommunications companies was perceived as “potentially overreaching” by civil society organizations, though adds that the “IRI did not find interference from the GNCC to be an issue in the pre-election period.”