Georgian NGOs: voters being bribed in run-up to second round of presidential elections
Just several hours before the start of the second round of presidential elections in Georgia, a number of NGOs have released a report claiming that numerous cases of voter bribery have been identified.
Who published the report?
The report was presented by the three most influential NGOs in Georgia: the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) and International Transparency Georgia.
The NGOs say that the government’s new initiative to write off the debts of 600,000 Georgian citizens is unprecedented, and should be considered voter bribery.
NGO observers sent to regional areas recorded several cases in which money was offered to the public in exchange for a vote in favor of pro-governmental candidate Salome Zourabichvili. In some regions, for example Marneuli, foodstuffs such as potatoes and onions were distributed.
A few days before the election, NGOs received information that fake IDs were being printed.
The report says that in the second round, the authorities made extensive use of administrative resources: they announced initiatives that were clearly aimed at impressing voters, such as increasing salaries and social assistance, the transfer of housing to refugees and various infrastructure projects.
Who spent how much
The report also addresses issues of money spent for the second round of election campaigning. In total, Zourabichvili’s campaign spent 2,964,704 GEL, while opposition candidate Grigol Vashadze spent 524,599 GEL.
Presidential candidates received this money as donations.
The report says that the fact that elections are being held on a week day is problematic, despite it being deemed a day off. The NGOs also note that the date was announced by Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze even before the CEC announced the date. Moreover, 28 November was brought up twice as the day to hold the second round by Zourabichvili supporters at a congress.
All this, the reports says, leads to the suspicion that the CEC appointed the date of the second round by order of the authorities.
NGOs point out that two leading TV companies of Georgia – Imedi and Rustavi 2 – worked in a highly polarized environment.
At the beginning of the election campaign of the second round, Imedi announced it would work in “emergency mode” against Grigol Vashadze and that they consider the return of the United National Movement (UNM) unacceptable. “Rustavi-2 is holding to a tough editorial line in support of Grigol Vashadze and against Salome Zourabichvili,” the report says.
Militant rhetoric and messages
The first round of the presidential elections had barely come to an end when Georgian Dream officials declared that if the opposition candidate won, the country would destabilise and a war would break out.
Meanwhile, the opposition spoke as if the rule of the Georgian Dream party had already come to an end.
Use of force
The report published by the NGO presents cases of pressure and voter intimidation. For example, in Akhalkalaki and in Oni, opposition representatives were severely beaten and a UNM supporter received a knife wound.