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‘Shots fired’ and stones pelted as Georgian election campaign takes a violent turn

28 September 2020
Election poster in Tbilisi. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media

With a month left until voting day, several incidents of violence have cast a shadow over Georgia’s parliamentary election campaign.

On Sunday, at least 10 people were injured with one placed in intensive care after violence broke out in the village of Nakhiduri, in the Bolnisi Municipality of southern Georgia’s Kvemo Kartli region.

Several fights between activists of the ruling Georgian Dream party and the opposition United National Movement (UNM) erupted throughout the day, culminating in the evening. 

Both parties have accused the other of being behind the violence, and the Interior Ministry has said they are investigating.

Those participating in the brawl included supporters of Georgian Dream’s majoritarian candidate for Bolnisi, Gogi Meshveliani and UNM candidate Kakha Okriashvili.

Okriashvili has accused Gocha Meshveliani, the brother of his rival, of leading the violence and of firing a pistol several times in the air during the incident, something that he has denied.

Stones thrown at Nika Melia

Sunday’s violence in Nakhiduri was not the only incident that day. Nika Melia, one of the leaders of the UNM and the party’s majoritarian candidate for Tbilisi’s Gldani District, was reportedly attacked while campaigning. 

Ana Charkhalashvili, the founder of the Russia is an Occupier group, told OC Media that she witnessed stones and eggs being pelted from buildings at Melia as he was meeting with local residents in Gldani. 

Gldani, where Melia is running, is Tbilisi’s largest District with 146,000 eligible voters, 14.6% of the total voters in Georgia’s capital. 

Melia claimed there were ‘almost 40 minors’ near him when the incident occurred. He accused the ruling party of ‘encouraging’ election campaign violence.

Charkhalashvili said she had not been questioned by the police as a witness so far.

So far, the Interior Ministry have not identified the assailants.

Other incidents of violence

The Interior Ministry has opened several investigations into what opposition groups have claimed is politically motivated violence. 

On 24 September, Ninia Tsiskarishvili, a member of the UNM’s election headquarters in Saburtalo, was physically assaulted. According to her, the two individuals who attacked her did not attempt to rob her.

Six days earlier, UNM member Lasha Tsutskiridze said he was assaulted by masked individuals, suffering head injuries as a result. 

Lasha Tsutskiridze with injuries. Image via Teona Tsutskiridze.

The authorities have indicted several individuals in other election-related cases, including two men for ‘petty hooliganism’ after they targetted Strategy Aghmashenebeli party members on 9 September and one individual for assaulting opposition Lelo party member five days earlier in Tbilisi.

On 22 September, parliamentary opposition groups the UNM and European Georgia boycotted the Inter-Agency Commission for Free and Fair Elections for ‘being chaired’ for years by Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, an outspoken critic of their parties. 

The Commission is meant to be a cross-party platform to respond to electoral code violations.

Georgian Dream hits out at ‘irresponsible’ Public Defender

On 25 September, Georgian Dream’s Executive Secretary, Irakli Kobakhidze, accused Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomajaria of bias for her ‘shameful’ claims over possible election violations. 

These included an alleged blackmail attempt against opposition members.

Earlier this month, Strategy Aghmashenebeli and Lelo alleged that members had been targetted with attempts to blackmail them with footage of their private lives. 

The Georgian authorities were quick to dismiss the claims unless the claimants came forward with the law enforcement agencies. 

The Interior Ministry also disputed Lomjaria’s claims that violations during previous elections had remained uninvestigated. 

Major international observer groups, including the IRI and NDI, plan to monitor the elections slated for 31 October in limited capacities compared to previous elections, due to risks related to the coronavirus.

However, the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission has committed to sending 350 short-term observers in Georgia, in addition to a core team of 13 experts and 27 long-term observers based in Tbilisi.

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