The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) issued on March 5 its final report based on findings of the Limited Election Observation Mission (LEOM) during Georgia’s October 31, 2020, parliamentary elections, with a list of recommendations aimed “to enhance the conduct of elections in Georgia and to support efforts to bring them fully in line with OSCE commitments and other international obligations and standards for democratic elections.”
According to the report, priority recommendations refer to:
- ensuring a coherent electoral framework, with review made well in advance of the next election with an inclusive consultation process;
- revising the election administration composition to increase its impartiality, independence, and more balanced political representation;
- discussing all substantive matters collegially and in public sessions by the Central and District Election Commissions;
- properly investigating allegations of voter and campaign staff intimidation;
- simplifying the electoral dispute resolution framework, with a citizen becoming entitled to lodge a complaint;
- handling all election disputes by commissions collegially and in open sessions;
- specifying in the Election Code clear, objective criteria for conducting recounts and annulments of results;
- Amending system for the free air-time allocation and ad funds disbursement to provide equal campaign opportunities.
Below are some of the key highlights from the report:
Electoral Changes Shortly Before Polls
Referring to the electoral legal framework changes of June, July, and September 2020, the report said amendments shortly before the elections were at odds with international good practice.
The document said the changes were “technically incorporated into the legislation and the repetitive and transitory nature of many of the provisions, led to substantial incoherence and instability in the revised legal framework.”
Despite changes, it said, a number of previous ODIHR and Venice Commission recommendations have not been addressed, including those related to campaigning, election administration, campaign finance, media, and complaints and appeals process, and a regulatory gap on recounts and annulments of the election results.
The report said the existing rules for the composition of commission members resulted in the “dominant representation” of the ruling party in the election commissions, which ”negatively impacted” the public perception of the impartiality and independence of commissions.
The document also noted that while most precinct commission chairs were non-partisan members, all 455 chairpersons elected from among party-nominated members represented the ruling Georgian Dream party.
The campaign, E-Day
The report underscored that “the line between the ruling party and the state was often blurred” during the campaign.
Ruling GD party representatives made a number of announcements “widely perceived as vote-buying” by the mission interlocutors, it noted.
According to the document, contrary to the Constitution and the laws, “the ruling party invoked religious imagery in its appeal to voters in some of its campaign advertising, and some clergy of the Georgian Orthodox Church were observed in attendance at campaign events.”
As for the election day, the report said “an intimidating presence of party coordinators and activists, often tracking voters, was observed outside most polling stations visited.”
It further added, that although the secrecy of the vote inside the voting booth was mostly respected, video recording or photographing of voters casting their ballots without their consent, contributed to a potentially intimidating environment in the majority of visited polling stations.
The report underscored that the legal framework for election dispute resolution is “complex and unduly restrictive,” with deadlines being short. It said, that “many eligible complainants faced technical obstacles to lodge complaints.”
Handling of the post-election complaints was largely a superficial process, lacking substantive consideration and investigation of discrepancies and credible bases for decisions, the document highlighted.
It noted that DECs generally refused to invoke their broad authority to ensure the legality of the election process as a means to consider the substance of complaints that were denied consideration on technical grounds.
“The systemic rejection of complaints significantly limited the opportunity to seek effective legal remedy,” the report underscored.
It also highlighted that “court judgments were inconsistent in the granting of recounts,” recalling that “a well-documented case of ballot stuffing in a PEC in Marneuli was not satisfactorily remedied by the courts.”
“Court decisions at both levels were generally not well reasoned,” it added.