April 27 Parliamentary By-Elections – evaluation of the pre-election period - საერთაშორისო გამჭვირვალობა - საქართველო

April 27 Parliamentary By-Elections – evaluation of the pre-election period

26 April, 2013

On April 27, 2013, parliamentary by-elections will be held in Nadzaladevi #9, Baghdati #52 and Samtredia #54 electoral districts, where voters will elect their majoritarian representatives in the Parliament of Georgia after three MPs that won their seats in the 2012 parliamentary elections left the parliament to join the executive branch.

The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) and Transparency International – Georgia carried out monitoring of pre-election environment for the April 27, 2013 parliamentary by-elections.

Election Environment

Unlike the 2012 parliamentary elections, pre-election environment prior to the 2013 parliamentary by-elections was rather peaceful. Competitive election environment was observed in all three electoral districts allowing candidates to campaign freely, distribute agitation materials, and conduct meetings with voters. Voters were not restricted in their right to attend pre-election campaign meetings and express their support for individual candidates.

Unlike other municipalities, there were almost no reports of dismissals from public service on political grounds. Cases of intimidation or abuse of administrative resources were mostly reported by the United National Movement but frequently these allegations did not hold up when verified.

Protocols of administrative offences were drawn up by Samtredia District Election Commission (DEC) against the head of Khoni police for violation of campaign and agitation rules, and a local newspaper for violation of the rules for production of printed campaign materials. Regrettably, the court did not consider either of the cases as abuse of administrative resources and offered a narrow interpretation of the right to use administrative resources in its rulings, which may become a negative precedent in the future efforts to curb abuse of administrative resources.

During the pre-election period, activists of the UNM were summoned by investigating authorities, which they perceived as psychological pressure and interference in their campaign activities. In response, the Inter-Agency Task for Free and Fair Elections (IATF) recommended that the law enforcement authorities suspend the process of summoning campaign activists during the pre-election period. Following the recommendation, such practice stopped which is a positive outcome welcomed by the NGOs. In response to another IATF recommendation public service announcements concerning agriculture allowances stopped airing one week prior to the by-election day. The IATF issued recommendations about broadcasting of public service announcements on agricultural cards one week ahead of the elections, as well as a recommendation about the use of state resources, calling for the authorities and election campaign stakeholders to draw a clear line between party and government events.

Meetings facilitated by the Inter-Agency Task for Free and Fair Elections proved to be an acceptable format for political parties to debate and exchange information. Notably, similar to the recent parliamentary elections, developments leading up to the parliamentary by-elections were discussed in frames of the IATF instead of the Central Elections Commission. 

Media was rather pluralistic during the pre-election period; however, Imedi TV, Maestro TV and Channel 9, the three major national broadcasters, refused to allocate free airtime for political advertising, likely limiting the opportunity for individual candidates to introduce their election programs to voters. Although by their refusal the broadcasters have not violated the law, the GNCC discussed the matter and issued a following recommendation to all general national broadcasters (including Studio Maestro Ltd, Channel 9 Ltd, and Teleimedi Ltd), calling them “to allocate airtime for free pre-election advertising during the ongoing by-elections, in volumes prescribed by law, in view of the fact that together with local [broadcasters] they [general broadcasters] also cover Baghdati, Tbilisi and Samtredia”. The problem arose due to the regulation that only subjects local broadcasters to the obligation of allocating airtime for free election advertising during by-elections. As the law offers a very narrow definition of a local broadcaster, there is a risk that the obligation to air free political advertising will not apply to any of the broadcasters during by-elections.

Election Administration

No major flaws were reported in the process of staffing precinct election commissions (PECs), except for Nadzaladevi #9 electoral district where violations were reported in the process of appointment of #5, #18 and #38 PEC members and errors were found in the protocol of PEC meeting. Therefore, authority of the DEC chairperson was suspended prematurely, warning was issued to the secretary of the DEC, and the DEC resolution for appointment of members of all three PECs was pronounced null and void. Notably, ISFED identified, out of the members of PECs within Nadzaladevi electoral district, selected by the DEC as professional members 14 chairpersons and 15 deputy chairpersons were formerly appointed by the opposition parties for the 2012 parliamentary elections to the PECs. Regarding this, the UNM was also accusing the DEC chairperson of falsifying the competition materials, demanding that he be subject to criminal proceedings.

The Central Election Commission was mostly criticized about the procedures it adopted for appointment of PEC secretaries. In its February 26, 2013 resolution N7/2013, the CEC adopted guidelines for PEC members in April 27 by-elections. The guidelines explained procedures for appointment of PEC secretaries, saying that secretaries are appointed from members of PECs that represent political parties (except for proxies of the United National Movement)Consequently, only the candidates of the ruling coalition were able to hold positions of PEC chairpersons in Nadzaladevi, Baghdati and Samtredia election precincts.

Election monitoring NGOs criticized this decision, which was followed up by the response statements from the CEC. In one of its statements, the CEC advised the NGOs to “re-evaluate their role in the election processes in light of the dramatic changes in political field”. The NGOs have evaluated the statement as incorrect and beyond ethical standards.

April 27, 2013 parliamentary by-elections will be the first elections to be held following the transfer of power, and therefore, it will be an important test for the new government. The NGOs believe that recent period has illustrated the necessity to improve certain provisions of the election law prior to the presidential elections, including norms that regulate the use of state resources and election advertising.

The three NGOs will closely monitor the Election Day by means of mobile teams as well as observers stationed at the district and precinct election commissions. For the Election Day monitoring ISFED will be utilizing 81 observers, GYLA – 55 observers, and Transparency International- Georgia – 6 mobile teams. Toll-free SMS number 90039 will also operate where any citizen can submit information regarding electoral violations.