Misuse of Administrative Resources during Georgia’s 2020 Parliamentary Elections (Final Report)
Transparency International Georgia's (TI Georgia) observation of the parliamentary elections from July 1, November 22, 2020 showed that the misuse of administrative resources during electoral processes is still problematic for Georgia. Ineffective investigation of violence, the politicization of public institutions, including election commissions, and mobilization of the employees of budgetary organizations by the ruling party for election campaigns, the use of investigative agencies to discredit political opponents, and other vicious tendencies remain unchanged from election to election:
Misuse of enforcement administrative resources during electoral processes
Several important trends in the misuse of enforcement administrative resources have been identified.
- Violence: From the second half of September, the number of violent incidents has increased, with several cases of group violence against supporters of political parties. The municipalities of Marneuli, Bolnisi, and Dmanisi were especially noteworthy in this regard. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) has launched an investigation into all incidents of violence and has quickly arrested several individuals in isolated cases. According to the information provided by the MIA, as of October 20, an investigation had been launched into 59 cases that may be related to the elections in one way or another. The investigation of 6 cases has been terminated, while the investigation of the remaining 53 cases is still ongoing. In 9 of these 53 cases, certain individuals have been prosecuted. The MIA has not released the updated statistics since October 20. Due to the low number of cases investigated, the MIA has become the subject of frequent criticism.
- Property damage: Since the second half of September, cases of damaging political party offices, vehicles, campaign materials and other types of property have also increased. In terms of investigating such facts, the MIA was even less effective than in investigating cases of violence.
- Use of water cannons against demonstrators gathered at the Central Election Commission (CEC): It was problematic that law enforcement officers initially used water cannons against demonstrators gathered at a protest rally in front of the CEC building on November 8 without proper grounds and warning, injuring several people. During the protest rally, professional activities of media representatives were also hindered, some of them were injured and their technical equipment was damaged.
- Review of Election Day and Post-Election Complaints: Various developments, identified violations, and the litigation process during the Election Day and post-election period are also worth mentioning. From the second day of the elections, the opposition political parties started speaking about the alleged falsification of the election results. Such allegations were mainly driven by the existence of numerous instances of imbalance in the results summary protocols compiled by Precinct Election Commissions (PECs). Doubts were further increased by unsubstantiated and often inadequate decisions on complaints and appeals by the superior election commissions (district and central election commissions) and the courts. In the end, the vast majority of complaints and lawsuits filed by various entities remained either rejected or unshared. As a result, all opposition parties, whose candidates should have run in the second round, refused to recognize the election results and enter parliament.
- Dismissals: During the reporting period, some information has been spread about the dismissal of employees of budgetary organizations allegedly on political grounds.
- Problems with the composition of election commissions: As in previous elections, this year the process of selecting professionally appointed members of district and precinct election commissions (DECs and PECs) also was a significant problem. Especially noteworthy is the #67 Zugdidi DEC, which appointed 102 out of 642 members of its subordinate PECs unlawfully, namely appointing those commissioners who were nominated by parties during the previous presidential election, which is illegal under a new regulation enacted this year. In addition, opposition political parties have reported that newly appointed members of certain district and precinct commissions were often associated in some way with the current government, work in budgetary organizations, or have close ties to members of the ruling party. TI Georgia periodically checked such information and most of it was confirmed.
- Using Investigative agencies to discredit political opponents: As in previous elections, the Georgian prosecutor's office has attempted to discredit the former ruling United National Movement party (UNM) by using a specific investigation. In particular, on October 7, the Office of Prosecutor General of Georgia arrested former members of the Government Commission on Delimitation and Demarcation, who were charged with violating Georgia's territorial integrity. The timing of the investigation, the pre-election context, the signs of a selective approach to the investigation and the populist statements made by the ruling party leaders violating the presumption of innocence raise suspicions that the investigation serves electoral purposes and is aimed at creating misconceptions about political opponents for Georgian citizens. As in previous elections, secret audio recordings involving leaders of opposition political parties were released. The purpose of disseminating the records seems to have been to discredit these individuals. This time, too, there was a legitimate suspicion that the recordings were created by Georgian special services and disseminated through foreign websites.
Misuse of legislative administrative resources during electoral processes
In 2020, the election legislation, including the parliamentary electoral system, was reformed that was mostly positively assessed by TI Georgia. However, there are still some major problems in the election legislation that work in favor of the ruling party and which the government has not shown the political will to address. Such issues include:
- Unfair rules for forming election commissions and improper procedure for selecting members of commissions on professional grounds.
In addition, some questions were raised about the CEC’s decision to regulate voting rights of persons infected with COVID-19, as well as persons in quarantine and isolation.
Misuse of institutional administrative resources during electoral processes
During the reporting period, there was a tendency to use several types of institutional administrative resources:
- Using state-funded projects in campaigning: The practice of visiting various public or private projects funded by the state or local budget by the ruling party's election candidates has become a trend. Such cases were recorded throughout the country and did not contribute to the existence of a clear boundary between the state and the ruling party in the run-up to the elections.
- Mobilization of public servants: As in previous elections, mobilization of employees of budgetary organizations for pre-election meetings was observed in the reporting period.
- Illegal campaigning: There have also been several cases of alleged illegal campaigning. Similar to the previous elections, the election commissions still did not recognize the cases of overt campaigning on the personal pages of social networks as electoral agitation, Therefore, this remains a problem.
Misuse of financial administrative resources during electoral processes
In 2020, there was no change in the central or local budget that would violate the Election Code. As for the electorally-motivated public spending, up to 20 socio-economic initiatives presented by the government in response to the economic crisis caused by the spread of the COVID-19 are especially noteworthy, which would have a great impact on the election environment. Among these initiatives there were several projects that could be categorized as electorally motivated public spending.
TI Georgia's monitoring of the misuse of administrative resources during election processes revealed the need to consider the following recommendation:
- The investigative bodies should investigate as soon as possible and impartially the cases containing alleged violence and pressure against the parties involved in the elections, vote buying and other signs of crime;
- The Ministry of Internal Affairs should proactively and promptly publish information on the progress and results of election-related investigations;
- There is a need for more regulation of the process of filling the positions of professionally appointed members of the election commissions and the establishment of clear qualification requirements. Proper procedures for selecting candidates should be developed to minimize the chances of political party activists being appointed to these positions;
- The Prosecutor's Office and the State Security Service of Georgia should be as far away from political processes as possible and they should not be used for the purpose of discrediting any political force for electoral purposes;
- Tbilisi City Hall should not restrict the right of political parties to assemble and demonstrate and repeal the fines levied on the Giorgi Vashadze – the Builder Strategy party;
- The rules for forming election commissions should be changed in two stages:
- In the first stage, a mixed composition may be maintained - the commissions should be partly staffed on a professional basis, and partly - on the basis of the results of the parliamentary elections, but not in an unjustified form: one party should have only one member in an election commission and not several ones like it is now;
- In the second stage, the rules for staffing election commissions need to be thoroughly reformed. Major political parties and other stakeholders should be involved in this process as much as possible.
- The law should prescribe the specific cases when the DECs will be obliged to recount the ballot papers received from the PECs:
- DECs should develop uniform practices for receiving and reviewing complaints;
- It is essential that election commissions perceive election campaigning through social networks as a violation of the law and make appropriate decisions:
- To change this practice, it is also possible to explicitly state in the definition of pre-election agitation in the Electoral Code that it also includes campaigning through the personal pages of social networks;
- The government should refrain from initiating large-scale social programs shortly before the elections in order not to harm healthy competition between electoral subjects.