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EU and US slam Georgian authorities over election conduct

1 November 2021
Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

The EU and US missions to Georgia have slammed the conduct of the second round of Georgia’s municipal elections in highly critical statements following Saturday’s vote.

In a statement on Sunday, the EU Ambassador to Georgia, Carl Hartzell, condemned what he called ‘an escalation of negative rhetoric, persistent allegations of intimidation and pressure on voters, and sharp imbalances in resources, which benefited the ruling party and tilted the playing field’.

In a similarly harsh statement on Monday, the US Embassy said they were ‘particularly troubled by credible reports of violence against election observers and the media during both rounds of the election’.

In their tenth year of rule, Georgian Dream secured victory in all but one of the 20 mayoral races in Saturday’s second round. Only in the small constituency of Tsalenjikha did an opposition candidate, Giorgi Kharchilava from the United National Movement (UNM), win.

[Read on OC Media: Georgian opposition groups refuse to concede in municipal runoffs]

While both embassies acknowledged that the vote was competitive and ‘generally well administered’, they criticised the authorities for ignoring concerns raised during the first round on 2 October.

The EU ambassador said the EU ‘deplore that these elections have been a missed opportunity in this respect’.

‘On the contrary, further shortcomings have emerged, especially in terms of misuse of administrative resources and violent rhetoric by Georgia’s political leaders, further fuelling an already deep political polarisation’, he said.

Similarly, the US Embassy said that ‘instead of improving the environment by solving the problems that election observers identified during the first round of elections: intimidation, offensive rhetoric, improper use of administrative resources, reports of clearly bribing votes and other violations continued, and politicised media further aggravated the polarised environment’, they said.

The US embassy also said that ‘concerns over the impartiality of the lower-level election commissions persisted’, and that embassy observers ‘witnessed similar interference and bias at several precincts’.

The EU ambassador, meanwhile, directly cited a statement by Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili suggesting that the central government would not cooperate with local councils won by the opposition, which he said sought to ‘restrict the electorate’s choice and to limit pluralism’.

Tornike Sharashenidze, a professor of international relations at the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA), said the statements were unlikely to sway the government.

‘The government is playing on the edge’, Sharashenidze told OC Media.

‘A few harsh remarks will not lead to any serious measures and sanctions. Consequently, [the government] prefers to stand such remarks but stay in power’, he said.

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