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Georgian opposition pledges unity in boycotting new parliament

2 November 2020
Protesters outside parliament on 1 November. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

All eight opposition parties that gained seats in Saturday’s parliamentary elections in Georgia have vowed to boycott parliament, citing violations during the election.

The United National Movement (UNM) and their Strength in a Unity coalition, European Georgia, Lelo, Strategy Aghmashenebeli, the Alliance of Patriots, Girchi, the Citizens Party, and the Labour Party, have all refused to recognise the legitimacy of 31 October’s vote.

Local election watchdogs as well as the OSCE observation mission reported a number of violations during the vote but stopped short of questioning their legitimacy.

‘We call on all parties to address these deficiencies in advance of the second round and in future elections’, the US Embassy said in a statement on Monday. 

Libertarian party Girchi were the last to announce they would be joining the boycott on Monday evening. Hours earlier, European Georgia, who were reportedly split on the issue, as well as Lelo, also confirmed they would join the boycott.

Seven of the eight opposition parties that gained seats have been in talks in an informal coordination platform on a joint response to the election.

The Alliance of Patriots, who have not joined the coordination council and have previously been reluctant to cooperate with other opposition parties, nevertheless announced on Monday that they would also boycott parliament.

The day after the elections, European Georgia’s leader Gigi Ugulava announced a ‘grand demonstration’ on 8 November in Tbilisi. 

Georgian Dream leaders have repeatedly labelled the calls for a boycott of the new parliament ‘disrespectful to voters’. 

Georgian Dream Executive Secretary Irakli Kobakhidze called the series of statements coming from the opposition groups on Monday a ‘surrender’ before majoritarian re-runs where, according to him, they did not expect victories.

Archil Talakvadze, who replaced Kobakhidze as parliamentary speaker following anti-government protests last year, said the UNM was behind the boycott.

Talakvadze claimed the party of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili ‘blackmailed’ other opposition groups not to enter the new parliament.

Preliminary results from the elections showed Georgian Dream leading in the proportional list with 48% of the vote. The UNM came in second with 27% and European Georgia trailing in third with 4%.

The results would give Georgian Dream 75 seats so far, one short of a majority. This includes Georgian Dream’s candidates winning outright in 14 of the 30 majoritarian districts. 

In the remaining 16, no candidate won more than 50% and a second round will be held on 21 November. Georgian Dream’s candidates came first in 15 of these, with the UNM’s Nika Melia the only opposition candidate coming first, with 44% in Tbilisi’s Gldani District.

‘A competitive environment’

The OSCE observation mission’s preliminary report said that Saturday’s elections were held in a competitive environment and with respect to fundamental freedoms.

‘Nevertheless, widespread allegations of voter pressure and the blurring of the border between the ruling party and the state have eroded public confidence in some aspects of the election process,’ the report said.

Several local watchdog groups also raised concerns, although none joined opposition calls for a rerun of the election.

The International Society for Fair Elections And Democracy (ISFED), a major independent election watchdog in Georgia, said that 8% of protocols summarising the votes included more or less ballots than voter signatures.

‘A trend of such proportions have not been identified in recent years’, ISFED chair Elene Nizharadze said.

According to watchdog, the discrepancy could have affected the results by as much as 4.1%.

On election night, ISFED identified violations of voter secrecy as among the biggest problems during the vote. They reported cases of voters coming out of cabins with unfolded ballot papers visible to others inside polling stations. 

ISFED also said that the presence of party activists keeping a record of party supporters showing up to vote outside the polling stations, though not illegal, persisted as a problem. 

Another local watchdog group, the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) corroborated the problem of discrepancy in voter signatures and ballots counted, and also offered a scathing evaluation of the 31 October election. 

GYLA chair Sulkhan Saladze called the vote on Saturday the ‘worst held under Georgian Dream’.

GYLA identified violence and voter pressure as among the biggest problems, along with breach of secrecy of marking procedures and secrecy of voting.

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