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Resume: Irakli Kobakhidze’s emphasis on only those parts of GYLA’s reports which say that most cases of vote buying were in favour of the opposition is a manipulation of facts and overlooks the organisation’s overall assessment of the elections. In the same reports, GYLA identified numerous violations from the ruling party, although Mr Kobakhidze and other officials of the Georgian Dream either pay no attention to these facts or express their disagreement.

Of additional note is that whilst speaking about vote buying, Irakli Kobakhidze is referring to the GYLA report whereas ISFED’s report indicates that most cases of the alleged vote buying was done in favour of the Georgian Dream.

Analysis

Georgia held parliamentary elections on 31 October 2020. Numerous violations and inaccuracies have been identified during the vote tallying process which prompted some people and electoral subjects to declare the elections as illegitimate (see FactCheck’s article). Many observer organisations have pointed out violations and irregularities identified during the vote.

The Georgian Dream’s Executive Secretary, Irakli Kobakhidze, spoke about the elections results and said that the identified faults would not affect the general assessment of the elections. Mr Kobakhidze stated: “I looked into GYLA’s preliminary report where seven facts of vote buying had been identified. Of those, two cases were associated with the Georgian Dream and five with the opposition. The alleged vote buying facts were identified but the scale is negligible. This is an irregularity but it cannot affect the overall election assessment.”

FactCheck took interest in the accuracy of the aforementioned statement and consulted GYLA’s reports on the parliamentary elections.

In March 2020, the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) launched the Long-Term Observation Mission to the 2020 Parliamentary Elections in Georgia project. As part of the mission, GYLA produced reports which identified those irregularities or incidents that are malpractices and distort the pre-election environment.

Together with some other violations, these reports also include facts of vote buying and alleged vote buying. In the pre-election period, there was a total of seven such cases with two in favour of the Georgian Dream and the rest in favour of the opposition parties. The reports include such actions of the ruling party which may not be qualified as vote buying or other irregularities, but nonetheless distort the pre-election environment and aim to influence voter will.

GYLA’s report which covers the June-August period notes that the steps taken by the state to mitigate the effects of the crisis were perceived as a part of a pre-election campaign or even a manipulation of voters. Among these cases, there was emphasis on financial assistance being made available by the chairperson of the ruling party [1] during the pandemic and the government’s statement on internetisation, [2] etc.

The report reads: “Every government must undertake an obligation to draw a sharp line between the state and political parties at such times. Unfortunately, this was not the case in Georgia. The government personalised the anti-crisis activities, thus promoting the perception of its affiliation with them. Consequently, the actions conducted by the government have been, on certain occasions, observed as a part of a pre-election campaign or even a manipulation of voters.”

In the same report, GYLA also highlights the ruling party’s use of public resources for campaign purposes: “According to the law, only those political activities that take place 60 days prior to the polling day can be considered as an election campaign. In certain cases, the ruling party exploited this provision and used public resources in their activities shortly before the restrictions came into force.”

In addition, GYLA’s reports also identify facts of government institutions impeding the opposition pre-election campaign as well as an improper response from law enforcement on the facts of assaulting and pressuring opposition party members.

Of note is that according to GYLA’s conclusion, the voting day was marred with significant irregularities at every stage of the voting.

The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) also carried out monitoring of the pre-election period of Georgia’s 31 October parliamentary elections. According to the six interim reports produced by ISFED, there were 64 cases of alleged vote buying in total and 40 of them were in favour of the Georgian Dream.

In addition, ISFED also points out such government-initiated programmes to win the hearts of voters as the Ministry of Defence’s initiative to cancel debts and draft laws envisioning different preferences, etc.

Of note is that on 4 November 2020, 25 NGOs released a joint statement on the 31 October parliamentary elections. According to the signatories, the Georgian government has failed to ensure that the elections adhered to democratic standards. The statement reads: “Moreover, in our assessment, the 2020 parliamentary elections were the least democratic and free among the elections held under the Georgian Dream government.”

Given all of the aforementioned, Irakli Kobakhidze’s emphasis on only those parts of GYLA’s reports which say that most of the cases of vote buying were in favour of the opposition is a manipulation of facts and overlooks the organisation’s overall assessment of the elections. In the same reports, GYLA and other NGOs identified numerous violations from the ruling party, although Irakli Kobakhidze and other officials of the Georgian Dream either pay no attention to these facts or express their disagreement.

[1] This refers to Bidzina Ivanishvili’s donation to the StopCov fund which was later highlighted by the authorities.

[2] Beka Liluashvili spoke about the role of the Cartu Foundation and the millions of GEL spent by the foundation to implement that project.