Since campaigning for Georgia’s municipal elections began last month, major opposition groups have claimed that the authorities have been pressuring candidates to drop out and their supporters to disengage.
On 5 September, opposition group For Georgia claimed that dozens of their candidates had retracted their candidacies for the 2 October local elections as a result of pressure from the authorities.
Officials from the ruling Georgian Dream party have dismissed the allegations.
On Sunday, For Georgia’s Deputy Chairwoman Natia Mezvrishvili cited Vartan Cholakhiani, third in their proportional list for the Akhalkalaki self-government body, and Koba Gelashvili, their majoritarian candidate in the Adigeni Municipality, as just two examples.
Mezvrishvili claimed that they as well as others withdrew after ‘pressure from the State Security Service’.
‘He [Koba Gelashvili] was threatened with having his children fired from their jobs’, Natia Mezvrishvili said in a press conference.
Some reports included For Georgia’s former representatives denying they had consented to run, something that Natia Mezvrishvili criticised as another sign of government pressure.
Announcing his run for Tbilisi mayor on 1 September, For Georgia’s leader and ex-Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia accused the Georgian Dream government of using illegal tactics similar to their predecessors, the United National Movement (UNM).
[Read more on OC Media: Who’s who in the Tbilisi Mayoral election]
The For Georgia party claimed on 5 September that they faced new cases of politically motivated pressure days after reporting previous alleged cases, with no follow-up from law enforcement agencies that are responsible for looking into such claims.
For Georgia also claimed that on 16 August, their supporter Akaki Bartaia was detained for illegal arms possession in the city of Mtskheta and that the police planted firearms as evidence against him.
Bartaia is well-known as a victim of police misconduct when in 2004 police planted evidence to implicate him in the high-profile killing of Amiran (Buta) Robakidze.
On 1 September, Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria reported 62 possible cases in which public officials were dismissed due to their political affiliations with the For Georgia party and Gakharia. Lomjaria added that she forwarded more than half of them to law enforcement agencies for further investigation.
The International Society for Fair Elections And Democracy (ISFED), a Georgian election watchdog, confirmed the same day that there appeared to be a nationwide ‘trend’ of politically motivated firings of public employees, ‘mostly directed at supporters or sympathisers of the For Georgia Party’.
These possible cases, according to ISFED, included the firings of two relatives of For Georgia's coordinator in Samtskhe-Javakheti region Levan Tatoshvili, Batumi-based Suliko Beridze losing her job after attending the opening of a For Georgia regional office, and Zugdidi-based Kesaria Tsulaia being fired after receiving warnings against sharing For Georgia’s videos on Facebook.
Similar cases were reported by For Georgia’s members from the municipalities of Gori, Tkibuli, Poti, Dusheti, and Khulo.
Early on 16 August, Kakhaber Kemoklidze, For Georgia’s political secretary and a former State Security Service (SSSG) official, claimed that representatives of law enforcement agencies tracked their movement and their party events in Georgia’s Kakheti region.
Opposition groups Girchi, European Georgia, and the United National Movement, have also claimed similar violations this month.
On 5 September, UNM's Levan Bejashvili said that four members from their electoral list in the Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda municipalities were pressured to formally withdraw their candidacies.
European Georgia member Gigi Tsereteli also claimed that Rusudan Kovziridze, their majoritarian candidate in the Terjola Municipality was targetted with an audit on the day after she announced that she was going to campaign during her vacation.
The leader of the Girchi — More Freedom group, Zurab Girchi Japaridze, said that the SSSG had 'threatened' their candidates over the phone and that some of them had already asked them to be removed as candidates in order to avoid ‘problems’.