The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), a key Georgian election watchdog, issued a report on “unofficial campaign phase” ahead of October 2 local elections. The report covers a period from June 1 to August 2, a day of the official announcement of the election date.
According to the findings of the report released on August 6, the ruling Georgian Dream party has so far dominated the unofficial campaign phase, while the For Georgia party founded by ex-Prime Minister Gakharia also stood out among the opposition through active campaigning in the regions.
ISFED says the problem of lack of confidence in the Central Election Commission has persisted despite reforms, citing the election of the new CEC Chair and two commission members with “low legitimacy”: they were chosen by a simple parliamentary majority in fourth voting after three failed attempts to secure bigger support as per anti-deadlock mechanism introduced by the April 19 EU-brokered deal.
The failure to raise the confidence in the CEC was caused by the “absence of a political will,” the watchdog argues, pointing at flaws at various levels of the selection procedure.
“Similarly as in previous elections,” the watchdog speaks about dangers of manipulation with voters’ will in announcing social or infrastructure projects or “coinciding their implementation” directly with the campaign phase. As one example, ISFED names the June 26 initiative of Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili to waive accrued unpaid fines for violating COVID-19 related restrictions.
The report also mentions possible politically motivated dismissals and pressure, generally in regions, adding that the cases of pressure and obstruction of political activities were mostly observed to target Gakharia’s party.
The budgets of local municipalities were amended in the pre-campaign phase with a trend to increase funding for social and infrastructure projects, the report says, noting that budget changes are prohibited during the official campaign. In those administrative entities where governors and Sakrebulo (local assembly) heads are to run in the upcoming polls, “the lines between state resources and party interests are blurred,” the watchdog warns.
Further trends identified in the report include the engagement of representatives of local governors in favor of the ruling party and the hostile environment for women in politics. ISFED also says negative attitudes towards representatives of “critical media” outlets became “particularly alarming,” further deepening the existing polarization.