The pre-election environment is “marked by deep polarization between governing and opposition parties,” says the interim report published today by the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission for the October 2 local election.
The report, covering a period between 26 August and 15 September, says that to date the election campaign has been dominated by mutual accusations of disinformation and violations.
“The 43 percent benchmark for the ruling party stemming from the 19 April agreement is a key point of discussion, overshadowing local issues in the first weeks of the campaign,” the report highlights.
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According to the document, several OSCE/ODIHR interlocutors have also described “the political landscape as highly polarized, and the discourse as aggressive, with frequent accusations of disinformation being spread.” The document notes that several reports of candidates being pressured into withdrawal were also made to the mission.
“The campaign is prominent particularly in print and online media, and social networks” with door-to-door and in-person campaign activities reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the document finds. Most contestants believe they are able to “campaign freely, including in minority languages,” it adds.
But, the report says, concerns remain among many opposition parties met by the ODIHR mission regarding the political environment that “unduly favors the ruling party, including in access to campaign donations.” The parties said that the recent launch of a number of social and economic projects by the government had compounded the issue, according to the document.
As for the media environment, the report says, it is “diverse but strongly dependent on business or political interests, and largely mirrors the polarization between governing and opposition parties.” Cases of alleged intimidation and violence against journalists have also alerted a number of ODIHR interlocutors.
Touching upon the updated election legislation for polls, the document stresses that the amendments envisioned in the EU-brokered April 19 agreement and adopted in June “only partially” addressed the ODIHR and Venice Commission recommendations. Those related to limitations on voting rights, electoral dispute resolution, and further measures to counter the misuse of state resources remain unaddressed, according to the report.
The report highlights varying degrees of confidence in the impartiality of the Central Election Commission – while some of the mission’s interlocutors voiced concern over the CEC Chair being elected through a simple majority vote following three unsuccessful attempts to reach a qualified majority, others took note of “pluralistic” composition of the Commission after the number of its members was raised from 12 to 17.
ODIHR launched on August 26 its observation mission, consisting of a core team of 12 experts based in Tbilisi and 30 long-term observers, who will be dispatched throughout Georgia from 4 September. The delegation will publish a statement of preliminary findings the day after the polls, while the final report will be released some two months after the election process.