Pundits Talk Key Takeaways from Local Elections

Two days after October 2 municipal elections, discussions continue over key takeaways from the vote and the less anticipated outcomes. The Georgian Dream party scored well above 43%, a number widely suggested as a threshold for its legitimacy after the EU-brokered April 19 deal, while the United National Movement, its arch-rival, saw significant nationwide gains, dashing hopes of depolarization and consolidation of smaller, more middle-ground political parties. Almost a third of mayoral races will go to runoffs, while GD seems losing the majority in some municipal assemblies (Sakrebulos). asked experts from academia, think tanks, and civil society to reflect on key trends from the recent elections and how they may affect Georgia’s future political life. Here is what they have to say:

Kornely Kakachia, Director, Georgian Institute of Politics, think-tank:

“The first prominent trend is that despite an unequal election environment and traditional misuse of the administrative resources on part of the government, the opposition achieved previously inconceivable success in big cities and urban centers. This implies that the public grew tired of years of Georgian Dream rule and tried to reject the existing model of single-party governance, while also pushing for diversity and the principle of distribution of power at the local level.

However, since Georgia has no traditions of coalition rule, it remains unclear how much the political parties will manage to cooperate and form (at least temporary) coalitions. The fact is, however, that creating such a precedent bears vital importance.

As for the key triggers of the election outcomes, the 43% clause of the Charles Michel document [EU-brokered deal of April 19] was among the most important factors: despite the GD formally leaving the agreement, the party was aware that should they fail to beat the threshold, they would be subjected to growing moral and political pressure both locally and from the international community. Another factor was the arrival of [Ex-President] Mikheil Saakashvili, bringing the elections back into Bidzina [Ivanishvili]-Misha [Saakashvili] dichotomy. This significantly harmed the newly-founded [For Georgia] party of Giorgi Gakharia as well as other smaller parties.”

Iago Kachkachishvili, Professor of Sociology at Tbilisi State University:

“There were several municipalities and self-governing cities across Georgia with critical numbers of opposition voters where the ruling party had a weak performance, had to go to runoffs, or even lose the majority in Sakrebulos. This means that a positive attitude towards the government is not equally distributed across the regions, and the ruling party is prone to occasional failures in major cities and municipalities. Parliamentary elections fail to show this trend since it is only in municipal elections that local governments are formed through local votes. The urban-settled voters turned out to be more opposition-leaning.

It is, however, a sad trend that the hardly defeated polarization rose back to its earlier benchmark, further deepening between the UNM and the GD and aided, of course, by the arrival and arrest of [ex-President] Mikheil Saakashvili. This has further motivated the supporters of both sides, while the middle-ground parties had to crush between these intensified drives. The elections have to some extent impeded the growth of newer parties that have been gaining force.

Intensified practices of vote-buying and voter pressure and intimidation amounted to a further trend, a hurdle for democratic elections. This was predictable as a significant share of the Georgian population lives at or below poverty line, leaving room for a political party, in particular the party in power, to turn the impoverished people into their voters. This practice will be still hard to overcome for future parliamentary elections, knowing that economy is not expected to get much stronger by then.

Another challenge ahead of the next landmark elections is that “third” political parties will have a hard time recovering and growing politically in the face of two political monsters. As for the positive expectations, I believe that slowly, but steadily Georgian voters are moving towards coalition government, with living under the rule of a single political entity becoming increasingly unpopular among Georgians.”

Eka Gigauri, Executive Director, Transparency International Georgia, CSO:

“The key observation during the campaign was the practical absence of a line between the government and the ruling party, with the ruling party quite widely misusing administrative resources. This was foremostly observable in the programs that were launched during the campaign, as well as in the participation of civil servants in the election-related events. There was also a huge imbalance in party finances, with the governing party enjoying 2,5 times larger revenues compared to the opposition parties taken together. The inefficient investigation of campaign-period offenses drew further criticism: there were cases of intimidation and pressure on the candidates who then refused to be on party lists, as well as practices of politically motivated dismissals.

As for the voting day, on several precincts, we observed repeated voting by the same persons, cases of interrupting our observers, and multiple cases of mobilization of people and so-called party coordinators outside the polling stations. There was another trend of certain NGOs with vague funding and huge observation missions engaging in various violations, including breaching vote secrecy, repeated voting, etc.

Summing up, I would say that these elections did not follow high democratic standards, and the Georgian authorities and the ruling party failed to show political will for the polling day to go without problems.

It will be important to work towards the repeated improvement of the election legislation and then its correct implementation: we can adopt any laws, but, of course, it will be a problem if we cannot implement them as needed.”

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