After a long and divisive campaign, the people of Georgia cast their votes in the second round of municipal elections on October 30. We commend the voters, and dedicated election workers, representatives of Georgia’s professional domestic election observation organizations and NGOs, and international monitors who participated despite the COVID pandemic and a tense election environment.
We share ODIHR’s assessment that the elections were generally calm and well-administered but allegations of intimidation and pressure on voters persisted and continued polarization, coupled with the escalation of negative rhetoric, adversely affected the process. Sharp imbalances of resources and an undue advantage of incumbency further tilted the playing field. ODIHR also noted concerns with the persistent practice of representatives of observer organizations acting as party supporters, at times interfering with the process, and groups of individuals potentially influencing voters outside some polling stations. While ODIHR found that the CEC organized the second round in a professional and transparent manner, concerns over the impartiality of the lower-level election commissions persisted. U.S. Embassy election observation teams witnessed similar interference and bias at several precincts.
As these elections have shown, democracy is a work in progress. It requires dedication to the highest international standards and vigilance to ensure citizens’ rights and freedoms are protected. Some of the reforms enacted by Georgia’s political leaders through an inclusive, multiparty process earlier this year, such as automatic recounts and electronic vote counting, largely succeeded in increasing the transparency of the voting process.
These positive steps forward were undermined, unfortunately, by wide-spread violations in the pre-election period and on both election days that adversely affected the ability of citizens to vote freely. Rather than improving the atmosphere by addressing problems identified by election observers in the first round, intimidation, offensive rhetoric, misuse of administrative resources, and reports of blatant vote-buying and other violations continued, and a politicized media further inflamed the polarized atmosphere.
We are particularly troubled by credible reports of violence against election observers and the media during both rounds of the election. These groups are the cornerstone of any democracy, and attacks against members of the media and election observers must be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Their reports should be viewed as providing valuable information that can improve the electoral process.
The election process now continues with random recounts of at least 140 precincts and the adjudication of hundreds of complaints. This phase is both a test and an opportunity for the Central Election Commission and the courts, and it will be critical for these institutions to perform their duties transparently and impartially. We call on the parties to use the legal mechanisms available and pursue peaceful means to adjudicate election disputes. Democracy in Georgia will not be strengthened by resorting to violence or pursuing solutions outside the law.
Each election – even imperfect ones – offers lessons learned and an opportunity to address persistent abuses that have degraded recent elections and eroded the public’s trust in their democratic institutions. As a start, we urge Georgia’s leaders to enact and implement all the remaining reforms recommended by ODIHR, the Venice Commission, and other international experts. These recommendations were provided at Parliament’s request and would be a significant step toward ensuring the next elections are an improvement over the last.
The American people have supported Georgia’s efforts throughout the long, challenging process of building strong institutions, a robust civil society, a professional, pluralistic media, and a government that is responsive to the people. The recent elections and Georgia’s deeply divisive political environment show much more work is urgently needed. The United States has offered our friendship as an honest partner to the people and government of Georgia because we believe in Georgia’s future as a stable, prosperous democracy that respects the rule of law, human rights, and fundamental freedoms. We remain committed to helping Georgia achieve those goals.