23 October 2021,   19:27
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TI Georgia calls on the Investigation Agency to conduct a timely investigation into alleged allegations of pressure of election campaigners

Transparency International Georgia published an interim report on Misuse of Administrative Resources in the pre-election period for October 2 local elections in Georgia.

“Transparency International Georgia’s (TI Georgia) observation of the Municipal Elections from June 1 to September 25, 2021, showed that the misuse of administrative resources during electoral processes remains a problem for Georgia. Ineffective investigation of alleged cases of intimidation and dismissal of the employees of budgetary organizations on political grounds, harassment of opposition party candidates as well as the politicization of public institutions and a large-scale mobilisation of public sector employees for election campaign purposes by the ruling party, the use of budget programmes for parochial party interests and other flawed trends are the key challenges to a fair election environment:

Misuse of enforcement administrative resources during electoral processes

Starting from June 2021, there were regular reports about allegedly politically motivated dismissals from budgetary organisations and/or pressure on the supporters of “For Georgia”, a political party established by the former Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia. In August and September, TI Georgia studied a number of such cases; in 17 of them, certain indicators of political harassment were identified;
Since the beginning of September, once the deadline of registering electoral subjects had passed, many opposition political parties talked about the alleged cases of pressure exerted by the State Security Service and other agencies on those in their party lists and candidates in single-mandate districts. The main goal of such pressure, in their opinion, was to decrease competition for the ruling party. The party “For Georgia” was notable for a particularly high number of such reports: according to its representatives, 22 instances of this kind occurred in Aspindza, Akhalkalaki, Akhmeta, Akhaltsikhe, Marneuli, Kazbegi, Khelvachauri, Tetritskaro, Tsalenjikha, Tkibuli, Ninotsminda, Adigeni, Kaspi and Tskaltubo. Representatives of the parties “Girchi – More Freedom”, the “United National Movement”, and “Third Force – Strategy Aghmashenebeli” also talked about similar cases. According to them, however, those whose registration had been withdrawn were afraid to talk about and confirm these cases. Correspondingly, it was impossible to establish their exact number. Only two candidates of the party “For Georgia” in Adjara and one candidate of “Third Force – Strategy Aghmashenebeli” in Samtredia publicly talked about the pressure they were subjected to, although, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, these persons during questioning denied that the pressure had occurred;
In the second half of September, two violent incidents were recorded in Dmanisi and Rustavi during which supporters of the “United National Movement” were injured and otherwise harmed. In Dmanisi, the police promptly detained the perpetrator of the violence, while in Rustavi, the investigation is underway;
In August, there were reports that the government representative in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region and the regional heads of the State Security Service and the Investigation Service of the Ministry of Finance allegedly tasked local businesspeople to make financial contributions to the ruling party. When the reports were checked, it turned out that, in the period between 2 and 16 August, 87 individuals and five companies from Samtskhe-Javakheti made donations to the ruling party amounting to the total of GEL 714,000. This amount of donations made from this single geographic area in such a short time period is quite unusual and may be considered to be indirect evidence backing the aforementioned reports. Furthermore, on 4 September, TV Pirveli aired a story in which some of the persons, who had made the donations, effectively confirmed in conversation with journalists that the meetings and circumstances mentioned above had indeed occurred;
Neither the Ministry of Internal Affairs nor the General Prosecutor’s Office disseminated comprehensive information about the measures implemented by the investigative bodies concerning alleged criminal acts related to elections, including launched investigations. Parties involved in elections could only receive individual pieces of information at the sessions of the Interagency Commission for Free and Fair Elections (ICFFE) formed under the Ministry of Justice;
In June and July, the process of selection of the chairperson and two new professional members of the Central Election Commission (CEC) was underway. All stages of the selection unfolded in such a way that the ruling party was able to approve by a simple parliamentary majority – without the opposition’s support the candidates that it considered desirable.

Misuse of legislative administrative resources during electoral processes

On 28 June 2021, the Parliament of Georgia adopted the amendments to the Election Code with the goal of improving the election legislation. The working process lasted several months, and the final version of the document reflected, among others, the provisions envisaged by the agreement signed by political parties on 19 April 2021. Along with positive changes, several negative provisions were included in the law, diminishing the significance of the reform and adapting it to the interests of the ruling party. Specifically, the temporary regulation envisaged for the process of selection of the CEC chair and professional members reduced the periods between parliamentary votes, thus allowing the ruling party to approve the desired candidates without agreeing on them with the opposition. Several other temporary regulations unfairly deprived two opposition parties of the right to appoint members to election commissions;
Amendments were also made to the Law on Political Associations of Citizens, according to which the Labour Party of Georgia, which gave up its parliamentary mandate, has lost its right to receive state funding. It is noteworthy that the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR have assessed negatively all of the amendments listed above.

Misuse of institutional administrative resources during electoral processes

Public sector employees actively attended the campaign meetings of the ruling party. This is noteworthy due to the following circumstance: public sector employees are, in one way or another, professionally subordinated to the political officials, correspondingly, there is a high risk that they may be participating in the election campaign against their will. This may be a violation of the Election Code provision which “prohibits involving a professionally subordinated or otherwise dependent person into activities which facilitate nomination and/or election of a candidate”. Even if it is not a direct violation of the law, such concentration of public servants in a campaign encourages, at the very least, extreme politicisation of the public service, which is unacceptable;
Alleged instances of organising campaign meetings with employees of some of the budgetary organisations based on where they work were identified, which, according to the new legislative amendments, is a violation of the law. TI Georgia filed complaints with relevant district election commissions concerning five such instances, although none of them was upheld.

Misuse of financial administrative resources during electoral processes

For 60 days prior to the election and including the Election Day, the Election Code of Georgia prohibits the implementation of projects/programmes which had not been envisaged by the Georgian state, autonomous republic or municipal budget; it also prohibits increasing social welfare payments (pension, social assistance, support and others) in this period. During the reporting period, no change was recorded in the central or local budgets which would violate this provision of the Election Code;
During the reporting period, TIG identified 10 state programmes / initiatives which may be deemed to be electorally-motivated expenses.

Recommendations

The monitoring of the use of administrative resources in the run-up to the elections conducted by Transparency International Georgia (TIG) revealed the need to consider the following recommendations:
During the pre-election period, investigative bodies should promptly and impartially study alleged violence, intimidation and other cases that manifest signs of crime against entities participating in the elections;
The Ministry of Internal Affairs must proactively and promptly publish information concerning the process and results of investigations into election-related cases;
To reduce the threat of pressure being put on the candidates registered to participate in the elections, it is desirable to amend the Election Code to remove the possibility to annul election registration based on personal application of both party list and single-mandate district candidates without the consent of a nominating party after the candidate registration deadline expires (no later than 30 days prior to the elections);
A political party should not lose the state funding it is entitled to regardless of whether it would use its parliamentary mandates since a party’s funding should depend on the results it obtained in the elections rather than its parliamentary activities;
The government must refrain from initiating large-scale social programmes shortly before elections so as to avoid damaging healthy competition among electoral subjects”, - reads the report.

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