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Historic low turnout in Georgian election

22 November 2020
The Second round of Georgia's 2020 parliamentary elections at a polling station in Tbilisi. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

Candidates from the ruling Georgian Dream Party have won all 17 seats up for grabs in the second round of Georgia’s parliamentary elections.

All opposition parties boycotted the vote, insisting that the results of the first round on 31 October were falsified. The results will give Georgian Dream 91 MPs in the new parliament, a majority of 16.

Turnout as polls closed at 20:00 on Saturday was just 26%, lower than in any parliamentary or presidential elections in Georgia’s post-independence history. The figure is significantly lower than the 38% who turned out during the second round of the previous parliamentary elections, in 2016, which were at the time an unprecedented low.

Suspicions raised during the first round were compounded on election night after the Central Election Commission (CEC) released preliminary results showing several Georgian Dream candidates gaining over 100% of votes. In a statement, the commission blamed this on ‘technical issues’ and did not rule out external interference.

Irakli Kobakhidze, Executive Secretary of Georgian Dream, announced that the party had won all districts ‘as expected’ soon after the voting ended. He said Georgian Dream would have 90 seats in parliament. 

Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

Later that evening, he claimed that the opposition was secretly mobilising voters despite their boycott. ‘They were active and because of this activity opposition candidates received 50,000 votes, despite them publicly announcing they were not participating in the election’, he said. 

Giorgi Volski, former Vice Speaker of Parliament who won in Tbilisi’s Didube-Chugureti district, said on Sunday that there were many reasons for Georgian Dream’s victory, including ‘defeating a sadistic government system’, as well as increased social packages which had saved ‘thousands of lives’, retaining stability despite domestic and external threats, large-scale infrastructure projects, new jobs, and reduced poverty.

He said that the elections were recognised by ‘all competent international institutes’ which had made the opposition’s ‘more aggressive’. 

Despite cracks appearing in the opposition’s unity, on election day most opposition leaders remained steadfast in refusing to recognise the elections.

Girchi leader Zurab Girchi Japaridze, whose name was on the ballot in Didube-Chughureti district, joked on Friday evening that he was supporting Volski in the second round. 

'He should receive all the votes. Anyone who goes, they should support Gia Volski in the best communist traditions, when there used to be one candidate and they were getting all the votes. I want Mr Gia to enter the parliament like that’, Japaridze said. 

Elene Khoshtaria, European Georgia’s candidate in Vake, wrote on Facebook on Friday that Georgian Dream was having a victory day over itself. ‘You should compete with each other not to get bored. You'll make history’, she said.

Elene Khostaria during opposition's protest on 18 November. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

Giga Bokeria, European Georgia’s candidate in Poti, said on Saturday that if the opposition entered parliament it would result in a repetition of ‘Lukashenka’s Belarus’. 

The International Society for Fair Elections And Democracy (ISFED), a major local election watchdog, announced on Sunday that despite the opposition boycott a number of violations were observed including vote-buying, agitators at polling stations, carousels (the same person voting multiple times), and election commission members being drunk. 

‘This once again illustrates how problematic the 2020 elections were and that the violations observed in the first round were not exceptions, but have become a trend’, their statement reads. The group added that there had been a step back in terms of democratic elections. 

Observers from ISFED in Kutaisi claimed that local officials were demanding employees show up at polling stations. In Shuakheti, Khulo, and Khelvachauri, they reported that voters were bussed in to polling stations.

After voting ended, several dozen people gathered at the election commission office in Batumi to dispute the results. ‘Today we are organising a shame corridor for the traitors, because they stole the election and trampled on democracy. This country is not Georgia anymore’, one protester said. Police detained five people during this protest for petty hooliganism and disobeying police. 

Protest in Batumi on 21 November. Photo via On.ge

Disputed results

Opposition parties have refused to recognise the elections since the results of the first round emerged on 1 November. All eight opposition parties that won seats have vowed to boycott parliament.

Several protests have also been held against the conduct of the election. On 7 November, thousands of people marched over 10 kilometres from parliament to the Central Election Commission HQ. They were confronted by riot police who deployed water cannons against demonstrators.

Police deployed water cannons several times throughout the night. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.
Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

The OSCE observation mission, which was significantly smaller than in previous years due to the pandemic, released a preliminary report following the 31 October vote noting that the 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.

ISFED said that 8% of protocols summarising the votes included more or less ballots than voter signatures in the first round.

‘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%.

First round of the parliamentary elections. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

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. 

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 the ‘worst held under Georgian Dream’.

Western diplomats, while acknowledging shortfalls in the election’s administration, have urged the opposition to take up their seats in parliament. Several rounds of negotiations between the government and opposition have been mediated by US and European ambassadors.

On Sunday, EU Ambassador to Georgia, Carl Hartzell, said that it was ‘essential’ that the country have a parliament that was ‘fully-equipped to take on the responsibilities that every Georgian citizen can expect from it.’

‘That should be the aim and that's what we need to be looking for, which will require leadership and responsibility to be taken by all sides.’

Davit Bakradze, one of the leaders of European Georgia, said on Friday following a meeting with the US and US ambassadors that the opposition’s proposal to the government was presented during the negotiations and it was now up to Georgian Dream to respond. 

Davit Bakradze addressing crowd during opposition's protest on 8 November. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC media.

‘As of now, the only proposal that is on the table is from the opposition — to hold snap elections in the spring. We are expecting proposals from the Georgian Dream about how we can overcome this crisis’, he told journalists. 

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