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OSCE Releases Final Report on Parliamentary Polls
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 11 Sep.'08 / 17:06

The main international observation body issued its final report more than three month after the May 21 parliamentary elections in Georgia.

The International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) was a joint undertaking of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the European Parliament (EP) and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA).

The IEOM observed voting in up to 1,500 polling stations out of a total of 3,558 throughout the country and vote counting was observed in some 150 polling stations. The IEOM monitors also observed the tabulation process in 73 District Election Commissions (DEC) out of a total of 75.

According to the 33-page report, dated September 9, while the election code is “generally conducive to conducting democratic elections, it contains new provisions which created an unequal playing field in favour of the ruling party.”

Voting and Counting

Reiterating its preliminary findings, the final report says that although election day was “generally calm,” the vote count and the tabulation of results “were assessed more negatively by IEOM observers.”

The final report also points out that the fact that the vote summary protocols do not including some “important data” – including the number of voters in the voter list supplement (involving voters who requested mobile voting) and the number of ballots in the ballot boxes – made it difficult to reconcile the number contained in the protocols.

It says that IEOM observers analyzed around 1,300 precinct election commissions’ (PEC) protocols, which revealed “problems with the reconciliation of the figures contained in the protocols of PECs in almost all districts.”

The report explains that in those cases the sum of votes received by parties and election blocs plus invalid ballots does not correspond to the number of voters who voted. The difference ranges from two to 467.

“There were cases where the total number of votes for the election subjects and invalid votes exceeded the number of signatures in the voter list, which could be an indication of ballot stuffing,” according to the report.

A total of 38 precinct election commissions’ vote summary protocols were annulled out of 300, demanded in complaints filed. The report says that the number of annulments was based on formal and informal complaints made by international observers or related to incidents witnessed by international observers.

Voter List

The report says that “despite efforts to improve the quality of voter lists, inaccuracies still remain to be addressed.”

It points out that a comparison of the number of voters registered during the January 5 presidential elections and May 21 parliamentary elections showed an overall increase.

“In some districts, the increase between the presidential and the parliamentary elections was surprisingly high,” the report reads. “For example, in Zugdidi DEC the number increased by about 6,000 voters, which constitutes a six-per cent increase. In Kutaisi DEC, the number of registered voters increased by about 4,000, and in Khelvachauri DEC – by nearly 3,000.”

The opposition Republican Party alleged prior to the polls and on election day that fake IDs had been issued by the authorities to allow multiple voting. It also claimed that after checking the voter list provided by the CEC, the party found numerous cases where more than a dozen and in some cases up to 80 voters were registered in one and the same apartment.

“OSCE/ODIHR EOM observers could substantiate some of these cases in Tbilisi and Batumi, where the owners of the apartments were not aware of the fact that so many persons were registered in their flats,” the report reads.

According to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), a total of 376 addresses where more than ten voters are registered were identified in Tbilisi. The report notes the MOJ’s civil registry sent a notification to owners of these flats to deregister some of these people if they wished to do so. “Consequently, 44 people were deregistered,” according to the report.

According to MOJ there were 692 addresses without apartment numbers in Tbilisi’s Saburtalo district where more than ten voters were registered; the total number of these voters was 12,119.

Complaints and Appeals

Although the complaints and appeals procedures were recently “simplified and clarified to some extent,” the report reads, “they remain unnecessarily complex, contradictory and ambiguous.”

“There appears to be a general attitude in the judiciary that the election law and its interpretation should serve to minimize the number of complaints eligible for consideration so as not to overburden the courts,” it says.

The report notes that there was “a general lack of will” by the election administration and judiciary to deal with complaints and appeals “in a serious and impartial manner.”

“For the most part they did not give cases due consideration, with an apparent bias in favour of the ruling party and public officials,” it continued. “In various cases, they refused to hear witnesses or view documented evidence.”

The report gives an example of one case lodged by the opposition, when it says, that the judge “blatantly brought politics into the court by asking the CEC lawyer which political party had appointed the CEC member who had initiated the ordinance in question.”

“It is noteworthy that the Supreme Court Chairman [Kote Kublashvili], reacting to an OSCE/ODIHR Interim Report, expressed to the OSCE/ODIHR EOM that the judiciary is never to be the subject of criticism.”

According to the report “almost all complaints” filed by local observer organizations and opposition parties against decisions and actions of election commissions were “unsuccessful” and “none of their campaign-related complaints were satisfied.”

It also noted that CEC lawyers “overzealously, and with unsound legal opinion” defended the actions of the ruling party candidates, public officials and government-appointed CEC members.

It also says that there were “widespread credible reports” according to which local observers and representatives of political parties at polling stations were obstructed by precinct election commission members from filing complaints, “with many of these incidents involving threats and intimidation and expulsion from polling stations.”

“In some areas, observers appeared to refrain from filing complaints, possibly due to such intimidation,” according to the report.

Intimidation, ‘Series of Attacks’

The report deals with cases of pre-election intimidation and post-election “violent attacks” on opposition activists.

“The [election] campaign was marred by widespread allegations of intimidation, among others of candidates, party activists and state employees. Among numerous specific allegations examined by the OSCE/ODIHR EOM, several were found to be credible,” it reads.

In particular, the report notes that teachers were subjected to pressure. “There were a number of verified cases of threats by school principals and UNM [the ruling party – United National Movement] officials to teachers that they would lose their jobs if they continued to work for opposition parties,” according to the report.

The report also points to the Tsageri case. A ruling party candidate was dismissed by the authorities after the opposition unveiled an audio tape in which he warns local state employees to secure 80% of the vote for the ruling party.

“The post-election environment was marred by a series of violent attacks by unknown assailants on opposition activists, which took place daily between 29 May and 2 June,” the report says.

The opposition coalition said there were at least thirteen such cases. “Many of these victims were involved in taking legal action against alleged cases of election-related irregularities,” the report says.

Media

International election observation mission monitored five television stations – four nationwide, Georgian Public Broadcaster, Rustavi 2, Mze, and Adjara TV; and one Tbilisi-based, Kavkasia TV. Four newspapers - Rezonansi, 24 Saati, Alia and Kviris Palitra – were also monitored during the election campaign.

The report notes that in general, "the media provided voters with a diverse range of political views, allowing them to make a more informed choice."

It, however, also says: “All five main TV channels were under some influence from candidates and political parties, which was an obstacle to nondiscriminatory coverage of all election subjects, as provided by law.”

“The campaign news coverage lacked balance on all monitored TV stations apart from public TV, with the UNM receiving the most coverage on almost all stations.”

It, however, also said that public TV, although it devoted similar proportions of its political and election prime-time news coverage to opposition coalition (18%) and the ruling party (17%), the latter was given “overwhelmingly positive coverage” and the coverage of the main opposition bloc was “mainly neutral.”

“The biggest share, however, was devoted to the President and the government (together 32 per cent) and was overwhelmingly positive in tone,” it added.

Rustavi 2, Adjara TV and Mze (the latter stopped news a month after the elections) devoted “extensive, favourable coverage” to the ruling party; while Kavkasia TV, which covers only the capital city, “in contrast, served as a platform for the opposition, allocating the bulk of its coverage to the United Opposition and strongly criticizing the UNM and the authorities.”

Newspaper monitored by observers presented “a diverse range of opinions,” according to the report.

“While 24 Saati tilted slightly in favour of the incumbents, Rezonansi, Alia and Kviris Palitra showed their support of the main opposition bloc and criticized the UNM and the government,” it added.

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