TV Pirveli, a channel critical to the Georgian Dream government, released text messages allegedly harvested by unnamed sources from the ruling party social media chat rooms, purporting to detail instances of vote-buying, pressure on civil servants, and mobilization of neighborhood petty criminals, and adherents of criminal subculture for campaigning, ahead of the hotly-contested October 2020 parliamentary elections.
The messages supposedly show the regional and municipality offices of the party briefing the party’s HQ in Tbilisi and GD regional secretary, MP Dimitri Samkharadze. According to TV Pirveli’s November 6 report, it obtained thousands of such files, which include text messages, but also video and audio recordings and photos – all dated between June 18, 2020, to December 3, 2020.
Civil.ge approached the Georgian Dream before this publication, but the party declined to comment on the TV Pirveli report.
Alleged Vote-Buying, Targeting State Aid Recipients
TV Pirveli aired messages that claimed to illustrate that GD party coordinators used the information obtained from the public administration officials to target citizens that receive state aid, including those on social welfare and poverty subsidies, using their dependence on state funding for inducing them to vote for the ruling party.
An October 4, 2020, message, supposedly by Gaga Darbaidze, reportedly overseeing affairs in the most populous western Imereti region at GD, said the party coordinators in Tkibuli were instructed to pay cash to selected large families in return for their votes. In another message, Darbaidze writes that they managed to win five votes from the Kiknadze family who were previously regarded as UNM supporters in Kharagauli municipality.
TV Pirveli aired a phone conversation with Darbaidze. Darbaidze is heard justifying incitement for such “defections” as normal part of an election process, which implies making door-to-door visits to “convince” them.
A message allegedly sent by Benedikte Gegechkori, who was on the GD’s proportional party list in 2020, reads the party’s Kakheti office sifted through the list of Sagarejo town voters on September 25, 2020, to see those who had received state aid.
In another message, dated October 4, 2020, Gegechkori allegedly detailed an appeal by GD’s Gurjaani office head for the Government to allow the Environment Protection Supervision Department to ease its policy on fines ahead of the elections to win the voters hearts.
A text message supposedly from the party’s Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti region offices detailed the GD representatives obtaining from Tsageri Municipal Hall a list of 60 entrepreneurs who had received state grants. They supposedly also relayed the names of 14 undecided or opposition-leaning voters to the party office supervisor to check and confirm their political affiliation.
Pressure on and Recruitment of Civil Servants
Another brief, dated October 4, 2020 from the party’s Lentekhi office in northwestern Georgia, allegedly details a proposal to fire one or two opposition-minded civil servants to send a message to those who openly oppose the governing party. The text was allegedly sent by Giorgi Makarashvili, who served as the acting Governor of Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti at the time.
The man allegedly informed GD headquarters that Lentekhi Municipal Hall would look for possible reasons to dismiss its employee, Tsismari Liparteliani who was also serving as an opposition UNM-appointed member of the local District Election Commission. Makarashvili allegedly said the Municipal Hall would “strictly control” Liparteliani’s attendance at work, and if any violations are found, would issue the warning and then fire her.
TV Pirveli reached out to Liparteliani, who said she has retained her position at the Municipal Hall as “they probably could not find” any excuse for firing her.
One of the messages from the party’s Tetritskaro office says “we have met with heads of [education] resource centers and non-commercial legal entities [quasi-state agencies – editor], who were tasked to make the lists of [school] directors and teachers, that will take responsibility for their family members.”
Another alleged message details Anzor Chubinidze, Head of the Special State Protection Service (SSPS) meeting with heads of campaign HQ from all four Mtskheta-Mtianeti region municipalities in the town of Mtskheta. “We covered in detail the state of affairs in the districts and what assistance we need from the Ministries,” reads the message by an unidentified author.
According to TV Pirveli, it also obtained phone numbers of civil servants as well as a military serviceman allegedly tasked by the GD to oversee election precincts and mobilize other citizens to vote for the ruling party.
Posing as a GD representative, a TV Pirveli journalist called two supposed employees of the Revenue Service, who confirmed they had participated in the activity. TV anchor said she also spoke with Ravil Gasanovi, Chief of Economic Development Department of Marneuli Municipal Hall, who said he had mobilized voters in both 2020 parliamentary and 2021 local elections in Kvemo Kartli region.
TV Pirveli also spoke with Dimitri Iasagashvili, a military serviceman. Asked if he helped out during the election day, the man said he “didn’t help anyone out… I did what I was tasked to do.”
Civil.ge reached out to the Ministry of Defense before this publication, but the Ministry declined to comment on the report.
Criminal Subculture Canvassing Votes
A message, dated September 29, 2020, supposedly detailed that representatives from the party’s southern Tetritskaro Municipality office met with local young men from “birzha” [denoting a regular street-corner gathering of men, who often include petty criminals and aspire to become parts of criminal networks. Often overseen and arbitrated by a more senior criminal figure – either “thief-in-law” or one of his lieutenants – Editor] who supposedly pledged support to the governing party and canvassed the youths against the United National Movement, the largest opposition party.
“We have met authoritative youth representatives of the so-called birzha, that pledged their support to us and began propaganda among youths, that no youngster shall stand with the National Movement,” reads the message.
According to TV Pirveli, Tbilisi City Hall employee Dato Kacharava sent the message. In the TV Pirveli report, Kacharava is heard saying he did not send any such message.
Another message, supposedly also by Kacharava, details GD representatives allegedly meeting up to ten youngsters who promised to promote the ruling party among the youth of two Tetritskaro Municipality villages of Tsintskaro and Khaishi. According to TV Pirveli, in exchange, some of the youngsters asked for assistance to have the criminal probation of their friends revoked.