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Expert Paper Details Risks ahead of Georgia’s Crucial Parliamentary Elections

Ahead of the crucial Parliamentary elections on October 26, GMF published a paper called “Georgia’s 2024 Parliamentary Election: Pre-election risk assessment,” authored by Laura Thornton, senior vice president of democracy at the German Marshall Fund (GMF), (with contributions from Tamara Sartania), which details risks and vulnerabilities in Georgia’s political pre-election landscape, legal framework and election administration, campaign environment, and media and information space.

Given the current developments in the country around the Foreign Agents Law, the author argues that the “most significant risk” facing Georgia is “a volatile and evolving crisis that has pitted the government against its people.” Thornton anticipates political violence and arrests and the challenges to the legitimacy of the election.

She also warns that the role of media and election observers will be constrained, but also notes that despite all the challenges, the election results are not “foregone,” given the track-record of the people of Georgia overcoming such obstacles.

Talking about risks the author writes: “These risks supersede, but build upon, other shortcomings identified in the election framework and administration, the media and information space, and the political playing field.”

Heading to the October elections Georgia faces “toxic environment of longstanding risks”, which potentially include civil unrest because of violence against segments of Georgian society including media, the growing number of detentions and intimidation, cancellation or limitation of due election observation process, restricted media coverage of the election related developments, failure to carry out necessary electoral reforms, GD information campaigns on threats of war and territorial integrity.

Political landscape

Discussing political landscape, the author focuses on the protests against the Foreign Agents Law and the violence against activists, media and the opposition, including by the security forces. She also discusses the legislative developments around the controversial law and argues that the legislation itself “is a symptom of a deeper illness: the Georgian government’s rejection of a westward looking foreign policy and desire to stifle civil society and media—the only remaining checks on government—as part of a broader illiberal agenda and attempt to stay in power,” which contradict the will of the Georgian people.

“Importantly, the timing of this legislation is purposeful and directly linked to the elections. GD was likely to secure a plurality without this law due to its access to state resources, the unlevel playing field, and a divided opposition,” the author continues, adding that GD founder and honorary chairman Ivanishvili are trying to “eliminate any possible threat, including electoral oversight by civic and media actors” to stay in power.

The author emphasizes the unpredictability of the development of the protests in the country, and notes that it remains unclear “whether there will be heightened violence and further arrests of opposition leaders and activists. If so, the campaign and playing field will be fundamentally altered, creating the groundwork for a crisis of legitimacy.”

Election Observation

In this chapter, the author explains the difficulties that the Foreign Agents Law creates for the non-partisan observer organizations, and how they try to deal with them to be able to carry out their crucial role. “The international community and donors must double down on their support to Georgian observers, advocating for their access to the polls, increasing financial support, bolstering their efforts with international missions, and, importantly, vocally and forcefully messaging full confidence in their work.”

“If the government and CEC thwart election observation efforts, or the environment becomes too unsafe for monitoring, there is a chance that there will be no independent eyes on the upcoming elections,” Thornton writes, noting that if the developments go this way, then the international community should articulate that this election is neither free nor fair.

Legal Framework and Election Administration

The paper offers the detailed overview of Georgia’s electoral framework, electronic voting plans, campaign finance and the election administration. “The main risks in the legal framework include provisions limiting broad voter representation, threats to women’s representation, new and unfamiliar electronic technologies, poorly enforced campaign finance regulations, and a politicized election commission,” the author writes. She warns that reforms appear unlikely ahead of the elections due to the ruling Georgia Dream’s reluctance.

Campaign Environment

As for the electoral environment, the paper highlights the low approval ratings of the parties and the sense of political homelessness as constant elements of this environment for years. “The electoral landscape is shaped by voter apathy and frustration at a lack of desirable options among the majority, coupled with deeply entrenched polarization and animosity between GD and UNM among the rest. The current unrest and widespread protests could change this calculus.”

The paper also speaks about the persistent problem of the ruling parties’ use of state resources and intimidation for the campaign purposes, calling on the observer organizations to document the violations and share the findings with the public.

Information Space

The author calls the media environment in the country “fractured and polarized” and mentions allegations about the government influence over station management and editorial choices which allegedly persisted for years. The paper also mentions the professional media whose reach is increasing, but remains to be highly dependent on the donor support. “With the new foreign agents law in place, GD authorities will have opportunities to limit, fine, or shut down critical and independent outlets.”

Speaking of the information space, among other issues, the author talks about the Georgian Dream’s mis and dis-information campaigns. “While GD, aided by Russia, continues to engage in dis- and misinformation campaigns around gender, LGBTQ rights, and liberal values, observers suggest that the biggest information risks during the election campaign are false narratives about Georgia’s occupied territories and the potential for conflict,” the author writes.


The paper offers recommendations for the civil society and the international community to mitigate the existing risks.

For the civil society and media

  • Develop and disseminate counter-narratives to preempt disinformation campaigns from GD and the Kremlin about threats of war, the role of Western allies, and the foreign agents law; accurately explain the foreign agents law and its possible endangerment of Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations;
  • Raise public awareness about the elections, electronic voting, and electoral options;
  • (For media) provide platforms for diverse candidates, investigate election irregularities, ensure broad coverage in rural areas;
  • Following the elections, clearly present election observation data and documentation of irregularities to the public through a unified approach. It will be critical that observers speak with one voice about the integrity of the elections.

For international community/donors:

  • Governments and policymakers must adopt a more forceful response to the GD government’s actions. Specifically, the EU should join the United States by proposing sanctions and travel bans for GD officials and their families. Direct bilateral aid and support to the Georgian government should be suspended;
  • The EU should consider reversing Georgia’s candidate status until election reforms are passed in accordance with the candidacy requirements. Council President Charles Michel should consider a return mission to pressure GD lawmakers to honor their previous agreements;
  • The United States and the EU should increase support to domestic election observation and independent media organizations, as well as to public diplomacy efforts to address disinformation about the EU and the United States perpetuated by the GD government. Creative financing avenues may need to be explored as the foreign agents law goes into effect;
  • The United States and the EU should support multiple foreign election assessment missions and observation efforts that serve as critical support to Georgian civil society;
  • Government leaders should publicly articulate, ahead of the elections, serious doubts about the legitimacy of any election process conducted with hampered nonpartisan observation and failed electoral reform;
  • After the elections, US and EU leaders must publicly stand behind the work of Georgia’s domestic election observers and highlight their findings.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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