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Key Election Watchdog Heads Assess Voting Day

1,970,540 voters cast their ballots in Georgia’s October 31 parliamentary elections, accounting for 56.11% of the total number of voters. As polling stations have closed nationwide at 20:00 and vote counting and tabulation are underway, Civil.ge asked key local CSOs that have dispatched hundreds of observers on polling day, to reflect on the highlights of the voting part of the election day. 

All three leading observer CSOs say the election day was “hard” with more violations than recorded in previous, 2016 parliamentary polls. Putting obstacles to observers, preventing journalists from fulfilling their duties were the particularities of these polls. Mobilization of the party activists at the polling stations who attempt to pressure and canvass the voters – often in favor of the ruling party – have repeated the previous years’ patterns.

Sulkhan Saladze, Head of Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association

According to Sulkhan Saladze, aside from routine complaints, the new element was that some observers were prevented from fulfilling their duties. One of the observers was assaulted by the head of the precinct election commission. Saladze said that interference with journalists’ work was another hallmark of 2020 elections: “unfortunately,  the police opened inquests into these incidents under charges of ‘damaging property’  rather than ‘interfering with journalistic activities’ or ‘violent assault’.”

“Summing up, I can say that these elections were truly hard elections. It is regrettable that we still have to talk about a number of “traditional” [election violations], and for these practices, there is still no end in sight,” Saladze highlighted.

He also noted that GYLA is not yet in a position to assess the degree to which the registered violations affected the results, as the counting is still underway. He said, however, that the breaches in a large part of polling stations can be considered as “significant, rather than minor” and that they are likely to affect the outcomes, at least at the polling station level.

Elene Nizharadze, Head of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)

ISFED head listed a number of violations during the voting period, including physical and verbal assaults and mobilization of party activists outside the precincts. Nizharadze highlighted cases of interference with monitoring activities of the observers, including physical assault and psychological pressure.

According to Nizharadze, breach of secrecy of the vote has been a prominent feature of the October 31 parliamentary election, noting that “we were informed in advance, during the campaign period that public servants were asked to take their ballots outside the voting booth in an opened state [so that the ruling party observers could see them].”

Other breaches affecting the free expression of the will of voters included photographing voters by Newpost media agency, as well as the traditional deployment of so-called party “coordinators” – activists charged with canvassing the voters – which ISFED sees as attempts to exert undue pressure on voters.

She also highlighted interference with journalists’ activities and noted that the cases of physical assault on journalists were worrying and “unacceptable”.

Eka Gigauri, Head of Transparency International Georgia

According to Eka Gigauri, Head of TI Georgia, “I reckon that today’s election is worse than 2016 parliamentary elections in terms of violations and challenges.” “Overall, with respect to the quality, we did not have very good elections, there were many violations,” she added.

Gigauri stressed that some of the breaches during polling day might have been intentional, while others were due to a lack of preparation on part of the precinct commission members. The majority of violations were identified in the first half of the voting day, she emphasized, adding, however, that a number of violent physical confrontations have erupted later in the day. 

Gigauri also noted that there were cases when observers were interrupted in fulfilling their duties, and one incident of a physical attack on one of the TI Georgia observers. 

One of the new challenges was presented by the pandemic, but this did not prevent a large number of citizens from voting, Gigauri noted. In this context, she said, many precinct commission members in many polling stations failed to follow the regulations aimed to preempt the spread of the COVID-19.

Follow our Election Live Blog for more updates on the upcoming October 31 parliamentary elections.

 

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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