Elene Nizharadze, Executive Director of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), a key Georgian election watchdog, resigned on December 25, after the Board held her responsible for controversy over the results of Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) of October 31 Parliamentary Elections.
The ISFED Board that studied the matter said the Executive Director was responsible for the delayed communication of the problem with the public, while it found that a “human error” was behind the inaccurate initial results.
The Executive Director’s resignation was based on the consensus among the Board members, ISFED team and the Director herself, said the Board at December 25 press conference, while Nizharadze said she decided to quit after learning the Board’s assessment and also to save the reputation of the organization.
Board Director Tamara Sartania explained that the PVT was carried out in software that was last upgraded in 2020 to match the Serbian election model, which also counted the invalid ballots, as opposed to the Georgian formula which excludes these data in calculating the election results.
The Board said the Georgian formula was not communicated explicitly, in writing to the experts from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) Washington office, who were involved in the PVT performance and analysis under the ISFED’s supervision. The commission thus found that “both ISFED’s PVT coordinator/deputy director and NDI Washington Office experts carried an equal responsibility to prevent it.”
ISFED management first learned about the error in mid-November through a call from an “international expert” from the OSCE, as Board Member Baia Pataraia said at a press conference, but the management decided to delay the statement till the final audit results at the end of November to exclude further errors. Later, Pataraia noted, the management again delayed communicating the matter till the publication of an interim report as the discrepancies in shares of three parties were perceived to be minor, not affecting the final distribution of parliamentary mandates.
Nizharadze, however, rushed the statement on December 11, 2 days after learning that the ruling Georgian Dream party was using the PVT results to manipulate political talks with the boycotting opposition.
According to the Board, the commission found that the Executive Director “failed to consider the existing political context” and was late communicating the error to the public, putting the reputation of the organization as well as the credibility of the PVT methodology at risk.
The commission did not find any attempts of pressure or intimidation against the executive director, however, the Board underlined.
ISFED released revised PVT results on December 11, on the opening day of the new Parliament, showing an increase in the vote share of the ruling Georgian Dream party from an initially counted 45.8% to 47.7%. The watchdog, however, reiterated earlier concerns of imbalances in 8% of summary protocols, adding that the 2020 parliamentary elections were “of the lowest standard” in the recent years.
The doubts about inaccuracy in the initial PVT results were first voiced by the ruling party MP Irakli Kobakhidze on December 9, two days before the ISFED’s official statement, claiming the opposition manipulated ISFED’s PVT data.
ISFED Board said today they do cannot say how the information was leaked to the ruling party. Board Director assumed that Georgian Dream had enough resources to perform an independent analysis of the vote tallies on which the PVT was based, but did not rule out the possibility of wiretapping phone conversations either.