Elections in Georgia: administrative resources at work
Administrative resources — state assets, budgetary enterprises, as well as people working in budget organizations — have traditionally been a powerful tool in the government’s hands on the threshold of elections.
According to various calculations, administrative resources give the ruling party a lead of 10-15 per cent.
It is forbidden by the law, however not one of Georgia’s governments has refused to use them.
The same thing continues today.
The closer the elections, the more often one sees reports about the use of administrative resources by the representatives of the ruling party in their election campaigns appear.
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Last week an incident with the mayor of Khelvachauri in Adjara caused protests.
Batumelebi published an audio recording in which mayor Jumber Vardanidze uses foul language towards a journalist of the publication.
The journalist made the official angry by asking why the latter comes to campaign meetings of the ruling party Georgian Dream in a car belonging to the city hall when this is forbidden by the law.
Election Code forbids state officials to use vehicles belonging to either government or municipal authorities for participation in election campaign.
Administrative resources have been traditionally used by all governments of Georgia when democratic institutions are poorly developed.
Cases of misuse of administrative resources weren’t rare during the time when United National Movement, the party of the former president Mikhail Saakashvili, ruled the country. Especially during the 2012 parliamentary elections.
Being at that time in opposition, Georgian Dream protested against these facts, but as soon as they came to power, the ‘tradition’ continued.
“This problem wasn’t solved with the change of the government, we come across the same tendencies during these elections as well. There have been no positive changes in this regard, while the negative tendency remains”, said Elene Nizharadze, executive director of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy.
During the rule of Georgian Dream, elections have been conducted five times, and every time observers have noticed the active use of administrative resources.
“Increasing misuse of administrative resources has further smeared the border between the party and the state”, says the final report of OSCE Mission for 2018 Presidential Elections observation.
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) revealed 35 different cases of illegal use of administrative resource during the current election campaign.
Cases cover the period of July to September 2020, the report doesn’t include the October data yet.
Traditionally, there are several types of violations in Georgia related to the use of administrative resources.
Use of state property in election campaigns
This is what happened to the Khelvachauri mayor. A typical case when representatives of the ruling party use the state property in the election campaign — drive state-owned vehicles, use computers and other equipment.
Voter bribery with budget resources and pre-election social aid
The Election Code says that starting from the 60th day before the elections, including the election day itself, it is forbidden to carry out projects/programs that haven’t been foreseen by the state budget before.
However this rule is often violated before the elections. As often as not it is at this time that authorities start solving old issues with road maintenance, water shortages, etc.
Either a road or a small park, while a candidate from the ruling party comes to open the facility. This virtually deletes the border between the party and the state.
This happened in 2018 when the government repaid bad bank loans of 600,000 people for the total amount of about GEL 1.5 billion [approximately USD 600 million according to the rate at that time].
In a country where 20 percent of the population lives beyond the poverty line, social aid provided by the government can have a decisive role for the elections.
For example, assistance to the population provided by the government for the decrease of coronavirus damage in September — GEL 200 [approx. USD 60] per child below the age of 18 — indirectly serves the same goal.
In exchange for this help, the ruling party will receive political dividends at the elections, says political scientist Gia Khukhashvili.
“Any provided aid can be indirectly used as administrative resources. Due to objective reasons. I am not the one to say that this aid shouldn’t have been provided, because the country is experiencing serious difficulties. But on the other side, this affects the elections results, and this was the intention”, said Khukhashivili to Rezonansi.
Such projects raise serious questions and create an impression that they are being used with voting intentions, said executive director of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy Elene Nizharadze in her interview to JAMnews.
Use of human resources before elections
There are many cases of direct and indirect participation of government officials in the election campaign.
ISFED observers register violations with the use of human resources too.
This is usually school and kindergarten teachers who are often forced to act as election coordinators because if they refuse, they risk losing their job. An infamous case of Zugdidi school headmistress Ia Kerzaia is a clear example.
Ia Kerzaia, headmistress of Zugdidi public school #6 died of stroke after the Ministry of Education conducted an inspection in her school to “punish” Kerzaia — after she refused to campaign for the pro-governmental presidential candidate from the ruling party Georgian Dream.
According to the ISFED report, facts of teachers participating in the pre-election campaign have been revealed this year too.
“Besides using the administrative resources, pressure and threats can also take place against these people. In general, in the regions people are really afraid to lose their jobs as the labour market is small, and it is difficult to get an employment. Thus, these people usually participate in election campaigns and support the ruling party”, says ISFED executive director.
Will administrative resources work this time around and will they bring dividends to the ruling party?
“Today the reality in our country is such that voters don’t care about politics and many are ready to sell themselves for some benefit”, thinks Gia Khukhashvili.
“Administrative resources depend on the social environment in the country. Taking into consideration that social risks are very high and people are benefit-oriented, even if it’s one-time, administrative resources can be called a very effective weapon in this case. Buying voters for a cheaper price is easier if they have no choice”, says Khukhashvili.