Local elections Georgia – Ruling party “force which really has no alternative”?

On 15 June municipal elections took place in Georgia in which the heads of 59 municipalities and 71 new local councils were elected, for a term of three years and four months. Next to this, mayoral elections were held in twelve cities. Despite the fact that Transparency International reported irregularities and filed complaints, they argued that the election day was “generally calm”.

The elections
According to the Central Election Commission (CEC) the voter turnout was 43.31%. During the local elections of 2010 the turnout was a bit higher: 49%. 24 political parties and blocs have been registered to run. According to analysts “the municipal elections are dominated by rivalry between two major political forces: ruling Georgia Dream (GD) coalition and opposition party United National Movement (UNM).” This is similar with the 2013 presidential election.

During this presidential election, GD candidate Giorgi Margvelashvili won 62% of the votes and by this “pushed UNM out of power.” In 2004 UNM received 96% of the votes and in 2010 53% in the presidential elections.

In at least eight of the twelve cities were mayoral races took place, a second round runoff will occur. Although candidates of  the ruling coalition party GD lead in eight municipalities, they did not received more than half of the votes. Based on the early results, GD candidates in the other four cities did win a majority of the votes in the first round. The threshold in the first round to become mayor was 50%, which is seen as “unprecedented high”.

Prime Minister and GD leader Irakli Garibashvili congratulated GD “candidates on victory” and further argued that the “democratic elections were a success for the entire country.” Garibashvili said that his coalition has confirmed “that we are the force which really has no alternative” due to the – based on the early results – victory.

Opposition parties
Leaders of UNM party of Georgia argued that the “very low” turnout demonstrates that the GD suffers “deep crisis of public trust”, the party is also “on decline”, due to the expected second round runoffs in the largest cities, UNM argues. One of UNM”s leaders, Giga Bokeria, even argues that the low turnout is a “direct result of general atmosphere of violence, hatred, intimidation, and cynicism created by the government.”

UNM leader of the parliamentary minority group, Davit Bakradze, does not understand why GD is celebrating “when almost 60% of voters did not turn out at polling station and by doing so they expressed protest.” GD should “learn lessons” from the elections, Bakradze added.

Other opposition parties tried to form a single coalition, but failed to establish this. The campaign of opposition parties was “dominated by criticism of both GD and UNM.” UNM is expected to have 26.02% of the votes, the third place if for Nino Burjanadze – United Opposition with 10.31%.

The EU received reports about candidates of opposition parties who withdrew from the proportional party lists, “allegedly because of pressure exerted on them.”

Reactions

According to Transparency International the local elections took place in a “safe environment”. The observers, 450 in total, reported fifteen minor and thirty relatively significant procedural violations and submitted sixteen complaints. Transparency International was glad that the Ministry of Internal Affairs immediately reacted and launched an investigation. In the end Transparency International made three recommendations. First, all cases related to the disrupting of voting procedures and electoral process should be examined. Second, the capabilities and qualifications of the CEC could be improved and third, voters lists should be improved as well.

Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, which monitors electoral process, does not agree and criticized authorities for a failure to “prevent such incidents on the one hand and on the other for not reacting properly to the reported cases.”

The EU was glad that the elections “were carried out in an overall calm and peaceful manner”, despite some irregularities. The EU argues that “a zero-tolerance policy” has to be adopted with regards to the runoffs. This is necessary to counter “electoral violence and degrading or hateful discourse”, Head of the Congress delegation to observe the local elections Jos Wienen said.

By Laura Ritter

Sources: Transparency International I, Civil.ge I, Civil.ge II, The Jamestown Foundation, European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity, Civil.ge III, Civil.ge IV, Civil.ge V, Council of Europe, Transparency International II

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