Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream party has been accused of forcing people to swear on the Quran that they would vote for the party in upcoming local elections. The accusations came from local people and an opposition party in the south-eastern Dmanisi Municipality, an area predominantly populated by Muslims.
A number of people from the village of Irganchai claim local party activists from Georgian Dream threatened to cut them off from social welfare payments if they refused.
‘They [the party activists] come and tell us, “put your hand on the Quran and swear that you will circle 41 [Georgian Dream] in the elections”. They force us to vote for Georgian Dream’, local man Ali Usubov told Iberia TV.
Georgian Dream, who came to power in 2012, has enjoyed a constitutional majority of 115 of 150 seats in parliament since 2016. On 21 October, Georgia will hold local elections for city mayors and members of city and municipal councils (sakrebulo).
Political party the Development Movement, founded in 2017 by Davit Usupashvili, the former Republican Party head and parliamentary chair from 2012–2016, first broke the story.
Giorgi Barbakadze, the current District Head of Dmanisi who recently left Georgian Dream for the Development Movement, told Iberia TV local Georgian Dream leaders had ‘terrorised the public’.
Georgian Dream has denied this, claiming the accusations were part of a pre-election smear campaign from the opposition. Giorgi Tatuashvili, Dmanisi’s mayoral candidate for Georgian Dream told Iberia TV ‘there are no real facts’ that could support the claim.
TV Pirveli said a number of people from Irganchai, after confirming the claims, spoke of similar incidents in the other villages of Dmanisi Municipality.
The Development Movement have made an official complaint to the Inter-Agency Commission for Free and Fair Elections, which works under the Ministry of Justice. The commission confirmed on 2 October they would examine the case.
Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani condemned the incident on 2 October after the session of the commission.
‘The problem remains in some municipalities where some people dare and make people swear on the Quran to vote for this or that party. This has to be condemned’, Tsulukiani said.
Almost 11% of Georgia’s population are Muslims, mostly concentrated in Kvemo Kartli, Adjara, Guria, and Kakheti.