Georgians Vote in Country’s Most Competitive and Credible Elections
Tbilisi, Georgia – On October 1, 2012, Georgians went to the polls to elect a new parliament in the country’s most competitive and credible elections ever. With teams observing in all regions of the country, IRI is encouraged by what it saw on Election Day, the second step in a process that also includes the campaign period, ballot counting, adjudication of complaints and acceptance of results. IRI hopes that as the election process continues, all political parties, coalitions and other stakeholders will respect its outcome.
There were many positive aspects to Election Day. As Congressman David Dreier, who has led election observer teams around the world, put it, “The broad participation by enthusiastic, yet calm, Georgian voters greatly enhanced the quality of today’s balloting. As results are finalized, it is our hope that, as both leaders assured us, they accept the outcome. It is time to further address the serious issues facing the Georgian people.”
IRI delegation co-leader Congresswoman Kay Granger also noted that, “election officials at voting sites visited by IRI were well trained and executed their duties in a professional manner. Their attention to performing their duty was gratifying to witness and a positive sign for future elections.”
In the pre-election period, the effect of the government’s strenuous efforts to improve the voter list were evident in a positive way on Election Day. The work of the Interagency Task Force, which gave various recommendations to address opposition concerns regarding the elections, helped diminish tension in the late pre-election period and on Election Day. The “must carry” rule for Georgian media was also important in informing voters of candidates’ positions, and its spirit should be continued in some manner in the future.
The pre-election period also included continued concerns regarding disparity in the size of electoral districts. This is a long-standing issue that has been addressed by observers after previous elections, and must be resolved before the next elections. The work of the Chamber of Control, and its successor, the State Audit Agency, inspired little confidence amongst Georgians. This low regard reflects the need for a comprehensive system for greater transparency, disclosure and accountability of campaign finance to be adopted before the next elections, negating the need for arbitray rule-making and fines during an election period.
Negative elements on Election Day included extensive campaign spending alluded to in the previous paragraph. Arguments over the issue of campaign spending detracted from needed debate on jobs, healthcare and other issues of greater concern for voters. The amount of money spent was an unprecedented, pernicious aspect in these elections. Spending by a government or opposition on lobbying in foreign capitals, or on foreign campaign assistance, has become standard in today’s world. However, the injection of cash, the origin of which is unclear, to fund domestic and international observer groups, exit polling and parallel vote counts adulterated the election process and further exacerbated an already polarized atmosphere.
Such efforts amplified a blizzard of complaints on Election Day. Since an opposition is usually at some disadvantage in any election, in Georgia IRI paid particular attention to their long list of complaints. Many of the Institute’s observer teams, for example, checked balloting sites cited throughout the day by the Georgian Dream Coalition. IRI also analyzed the opposition’s complaints, both by type and by geography, in an effort to establish whether there was a systemic pattern that might have affected the election’s outcome. There was no such pattern on most of the issues raised; most were the type of isolated violations that are unfortunately seen around the world in elections but are not part of a systemic pattern. The exception was nationwide accusations that police were intimidating election officials by accusing them of accepting bribes. The source of these calls is unclear, since the numbers to return such phone calls were not those of police stations. Regardless of their origin, the reports were sufficiently widespread, and of sufficient gravity, that they merit intensive investigation and full prosecution under the law.
IRI Delegates from Canada, the Czech Republic, Jordan, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States observed voting and balloting counting at more than 150 polling stations in Adjara, Imereti, Kakheti, Kvemo Kartli, Samegrelo, Samtskhe-Javakheti and Tbilisi.
IRI’s delegation was led by U.S. Congressman David Dreier (CA-26) and U.S. Congresswoman Kay Granger (TX-12) both of whom serve on IRI’s Board of Directors. Other delegates were:
- Tharwat Al-Amro, former member of Jordan’s parliament representing the governorate of Kerak’s 2nd District;
- Victor Ashe, former U.S. Ambassador to Poland, member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors;
- Susan Corke, Director for Eurasia programs at Freedom House;
- Eva Gustavsson of Sweden, Managing Director of the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation;
- Barry Jackson, Senior Counselor to Speaker John Boehner;
- Matt Leffingwell, Chief of Staff to U.S. Congresswoman Kay Granger;
- Rachael Leman, Deputy Staff Director for Policy and Strategic Communications for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Rules;
- Eirik Moen of Norway, Executive Secretary of the International Democrat Union;
- Marijus Petrusonis, Third Secretary with the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
- Robert Thomas of the United Kingdom, advisor in the International Office of the Conservative Party; and
Brad Smith, Chief of Staff to U.S. Congressman David Dreier.
Prior to the election, delegates were briefed by representatives from the U.S. Embassy, political party representatives and Georgian election officials. They were also briefed on the rights and responsibilities of international observers and Georgian election law.
Since 1983, IRI has monitored more than 150 elections in more than 46 countries, including Georgia’s November 2003 parliamentary elections and the January 2008 presidential election.