A report written for LINKS by
Laurence Broers and Julian Broxup
the london information network
on conflicts and state-building
London SW8 1SJ, UK
Tel: (44) 20 7735 2080
Table of Contents
1. Executive Summary
2. The Political Setting
2.1 The Parliamentary and Presidential Elections of 1999-2000
2.2 Recent Political Developments 2001-2003
2.3 The Georgian Multiparty System
3. The 2 November 2003 Parliamentary Elections
3.1 The Institutional Framework
3.2 The Election Law and Recent Changes
3.3 Voter Registration
3.4 Party and Candidate Registration
3.5 The Campaign
3.6 Major Political Parties and Blocs
3.8 The Use of State Administrative Resources
3.9 Regionalised Fraud
3.10 Election Day
3.11 Results and Reactions
4. The 4 January 2004 Presidential Elections
4.1 Changes in the CEC and the Electoral Code
4.2 Voter Registration
4.3 Candidate Registration and Campaigning
4.4 Election Day
4.5 Results and Reactions
5. Civil Society and the Media
5.1 Civil Society
5.2 The Media
6. The Role of the International Community
7. Conflict Regions and National Minorities
7.1 Conflict Regions: Abkhazia and South Ossetia
7.2 National Minorities
8. Centre-Periphery Relations: the Tbilisi-Adjara Relationship
9. Conclusions and Recommendations
Appendix I: Parties and Blocs contesting the 2003 Parliamentary Elections
Appendix II: LINKS Preliminary Report on the 2003 Georgian Parliamentary Elections and Referendum, 3 November 2003.
Appendix III: LINKS Preliminary Report on the 2004 Georgian Presidential Elections, 5 January 2004.
Appendix IV: Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions of the International Election Observation Mission to the Georgian Parliamentary Elections, 3 November 2003.
Appendix V: Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions of the International Election Observation Mission to the Georgian Presidential Elections, 5 January 2004.
This reports presents the results of LINKS election observation for the 2 November parliamentary elections and the 4 January presidential elections in Georgia. LINKS has observed all elections in Georgia, both general and local, since 1995. A wide variety of sources were used for the compilation of this report, including interviews with election contestants, civil society groups and electoral administration staff, official decrees and documentation, press coverage, social research and survey work, and the results of election day observation carried out by LINKS.
It should be emphasised that this report does not attempt to analyse all of the circumstances surrounding developments in Georgia over the past three months. Our aim, rather, is to keep a tight focus on the electoral process itself, while also providing strategic analysis of the impact of the elections on the broader processes of democratisation and state building. LINKS hopes this report will be a useful tool for those in Georgia and in the international community in general, who are seeking to build in Georgia a genuinely democratic state.
The authors are grateful for the invaluable support of Caucasus Links, Tbilisi, in the compilation of this report.
30 January 2004
2. Executive Summary
On 2 November 2003 the fourth round of parliamentary elections took place since independence in Georgia. These elections were widely anticipated as a critical precursor to the presidential elections scheduled for 2005 and the replacement of President Eduard Shevardnadze. They were the most keenly fought and pluralistic parliamentary elections in Georgia’s post-Soviet history, offering the electorate a genuine choice of parties and candidates.
They were also the most transparent elections to have been conducted in Georgia. This was in part due to efforts by the electoral administration management to make its work more transparent, but mainly due to the active involvement of civil society institutions. In addition to a large-scale domestic observation effort, civil society groups together with international agencies organized for the first time an exit poll and parallel vote tabulation. At times, however, civil society initiatives themselves lacked transparency, compromising their credibility.
In terms of their conduct, however, the November elections represented a continued deterioration in electoral standards across a range of parameters. The Georgian authorities and political parties continued to disappoint the electorate by putting narrow political interests before the electoral process itself at all stages of the elections.
In particular the elections were characterised by failures to ensure a universal suffrage, to counter partisanship in the electoral administration, and to prevent falsification on a scale sufficient to significantly distort the overall final results. Many of the problems seen in previous Georgian elections were evident in even more exaggerated form, in particular the systematic distortion of the proportional list component of the vote by regionalised fraud.
A combination of widespread rejection of the official results, popular protest at the conduct of the elections and international pressure forced President Shevardnadze to resign some three weeks after the poll.
In accordance with the Georgian Constitution, pre-term presidential elections were called for 4 January 2004 to elect his replacement. Sweeping cadre turnover, in both political and electoral administrative structures, characterized the interim period, as the former opposition consolidated its hold over executive power. The results of the November proportional list vote (accounting for 150 of 235 mandates) were annulled by the Supreme Court and a new round of parliamentary elections was subsequently scheduled for 28 March 2004.
Preparations for the presidential poll took place within a very limited timeframe, with the result that many problems evident in the prior poll could not be satisfactorily addressed. The most significant of these was the issue of voter registration. An important finding of this report is that the total number of voters registered for the 4 January presidential election presents a significant underestimate of the total eligible electorate in Georgia. This again raises concerns with regard to the universality of the 4 January suffrage. Aside from this important shortcoming, the electoral administration and interim political authorities on the whole demonstrated a commendable improvement in their organization of the elections.
The result of the 4 January presidential poll was a foregone conclusion in favour of Mikheil Saakashvili, the leader of the former opposition who emerged as the key figure in the November protests. None of the other five candidates ran visible or credible campaigns; furthermore two important political parties boycotted the elections in protest at the annulment of the November suffrage. As a result that the electorate was not offered a genuine choice between candidates or programmes. There was a substantial improvement in the conduct of polling, although there were significantly reduced numbers of domestic observers and some serious violations were still reported.
The November elections represent a watershed in the involvement of civil society in the democratisation process. Civil society institutions played a more active role in the electoral process than ever before, and were instrumental in the discrediting of the results. A pluralistic and vibrant media provided extensive coverage of the elections. However, in some cases the close alliance of civil groups and parts of the media with opposition political parties compromised their neutrality. The change of government now presents Georgian civil society with a new challenge of observing an appropriate distance from the political forces in whose passage to power it played such a central role.
Neither round of elections took place in Abkhazia or South Ossetia, the territories which seceded from Georgia following violent conflict in the early 1990s. The change of government in Georgia led to a period of heightened tension in the ongoing negotiation processes with these regions, which were temporarily suspended.
There was, however, no notable escalation in the low-level violence in the conflict zones. Some progress was made in promoting the active involvement of Georgia’s other national minorities by providing electoral materials in minority languages, although unfortunately this did not extend to ballot papers. In both the November and January polls the cajoling of national minority electorates by local authorities in favour of incumbents further compromised these efforts. The annulment of part of the 2 November election results and the change of government in Tbilisi also led to a deterioration of centre-periphery relations with the Autonomous Republic of Adjara.
The report ends with a number of recommendations aimed at avoiding the recurrence of the flaws marking the November and January elections. The new Georgian authorities bear clear responsibilities in the fields of the timely implementation of existing electoral legislation, the establishment of an accurate and comprehensive voters’ register, the separation of political party and state interests from the electoral administration and its work, and the enforcement of a policy of zero tolerance towards electoral fraud. The main challenge now facing the new Georgian Government is to ensure that these problems do not mar the forthcoming parliamentary elections on 28 March.
2. The Political Setting
Among the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union, Georgia has undergone one of the most turbulent paths to independent statehood. Two successful bids for secession in 1990-1993 literally fragmented the state, resulting in the death over of 20,000 combatants and civilians and the forced displacement of some 250,000 internal refugees.
At the Georgian centre, the republic’s first legally elected president was forcefully deposed in 1992, leading to the complete collapse of state institutions and civil peace. Parallel to these developments the Georgian economy endured a near-total collapse, recovery from which has to date been limited. Political practice in the post-Soviet Georgian state continues to be dominated by legacies from Soviet rule: venality, corruption and weak institutions of civil society, resulting in a pervasive public disillusionment with democratisation. Georgia’s experience of integration into the world international system has been that of a rump state, subject to external influences and dependent on the goodwill of Western donors.
These factors notwithstanding, since the low point of 1994 Georgia’s recovery has been impressive. Rather than a ‘failed state’, Georgia has emerged as a ‘weak state’ displaying some of the formal attributes of a liberal democracy. Civil peace has been restored to most of the republic, and a relatively lively civil society is developing, at least in the capital Tbilisi. Following an earlier nationalist and internationally isolationist policy, the Georgian state now actively pursues international integration and a more inclusive vision of the republic’s political community. Significant challenges nevertheless continue to confront Georgia, above all feeble state capacity, the establishment of the rule of law and the building of an effective economic base, as well as continued stalemate in the resolution of secessionist conflicts.
The Georgian parliamentary elections of 2 November were widely anticipated as decisive for the future not only of the democratisation process, but for Georgia’s policy orientations as a whole. The incoming parliament would oversee the presidential elections scheduled for 2005. Since the Georgian President may be elected only for two consecutive terms, the elections scheduled for 2005 signified the end of President Eduard Shevardnadze’s period in office and thus the critical question of his replacement. The stakes were thus exceptionally high, particularly in view of the weighting of the Georgian political system towards the president.
The presidency is the most important political institution in Georgia. Appointed for a five year term, the president determines domestic and foreign policy, issues decrees with normative legal status, appoints ministers (with the approval of parliament) and major officials within the executive branch, submits the budget to parliament and is responsible for state security. The president must agree or veto laws passed by parliament, although parliament retains the right to override a presidential veto. It may also initiate impeachment proceedings against the president.
2.1 The Parliamentary and Presidential Elections of 1999-2000
Following independent Georgia’s turbulent early history, the late 1990s were dominated by the widely accepted legitimacy of appeals to stability, embodied most obviously in the person of President Shevardnadze and his affiliated party, the Citizens Union of Georgia (hereafter, CUG). In the 1999 parliamentary election, on the basis of an overall turnout of 67.9%, the CUG won a clear majority of 41.6% with only two other parties, the Union of Democratic Revival (25.2%) and Industry Will Save Georgia (7.1%) securing representation. This pattern was again reflected in the 2000 presidential contest, a one-horse race in which Shevardnadze’s victory was never seriously in doubt. On the basis of a (contested) 75.8% turnout, Shevardnadze was elected with 79.8% against the 16.7% achieved by his nearest rival, Jumber Patiashvili.
While the parliamentary and presidential elections of 1995 were deemed by international observers to be broadly free and fair, the polls in 1999 and 2000 were more problematic. Most observers opted for cautiously positive assessments of the 1999 parliamentary election.
However, the 2000 presidential election attracted more criticism in several areas, most importantly the active role played by local state authorities in supporting Shevardnadze’s campaign, partisan control of electoral institutions, deficient electoral legislation and inaccurate voters’ lists. However, although the 2000 presidential election provided clear evidence of the suborning of local authorities to the incumbent’s campaign and inadequate electoral legislation, there was little doubt that these serious infringements did not alter the final result.
2.2 Recent political developments 2001-2003
In the period since Shevardnadze’s re-election the most important trend in domestic Georgian politics has been the crumbling of the CUG’s legitimacy and the appearance of an increasingly diverse range of parties defined broadly as ‘the opposition’. As a result of continued economic hardship and the entrenchment of corrupt patrons and their clients, the CUG was increasingly – and in the event fatally – perceived as overseeing the pervasive criminalization of a parasitic and ineffectual state.
The CUG was always a broad church, incorporating and co-opting a wide range of interest groups, small political parties and patronage networks. The party’s fragmentation spawned a number of new political parties that successively reduced the CUG’s majority in parliament, thereby encouraging further defections. June and November 2001 saw the formation of the New Rightists and National Movement parties respectively, which, albeit with different nuances, defined themselves as ‘opposition’ parties to the government.
The subsequent struggle for control within the rump CUG, and the uncertain implications of the outcome of this struggle for the party’s relationship to the president, further incapacitated both the party and parliament, now sitting without a majority. The fragmentation of the CUG continued in 2002, with the creation in November of a further new party, the United Democrats, under the leadership of former Parliament Speaker and erstwhile Shevardnadze ally, Zurab Zhvania.
The CUG’s diminished profile culminated in its poor performance in the June 2002 elections to local bodies of municipal self-government (councils, in Georgian sakrebulo).
Municipal councils are elected nationwide on the basis of a multi-mandate majoritarian system, while the Tbilisi City Council is elected on the basis of a proportional representation system of party lists with a minimum threshold of 4% for representation. The New Rightists party was the nationwide winner of the local elections, while in Tbilisi the Labour Party (15 seats) and the National Movement (14 seats) emerged as the clear winners. By contrast the CUG failed to achieve representation in the Tbilisi City Council.
This pointed to an emergent pattern in Georgian politics of a more pluralist and competitive political environment in the capital, while incumbents retain party strongholds in certain key peripheral regions. The conduct of the 2002 local elections, which took place considerably later than the date stipulated in law, was widely criticized by domestic observers. The most recent elections prior to the 2003 parliamentary contest were by-elections held in four districts (Saburtalo, Rustavi, Samtredia and Abasha) in November 2002. Domestic observers pointed to several problems marring these elections that would recur in 2003: severely inaccurate voters lists, artificially swollen turnouts and the partisan nature of electoral institutions.
2.3 The Georgian Multiparty System
In contrast to the increasingly authoritarian and repressive political climate in some Central Asian states, Georgia exhibits a more individualist political culture in which criticism of the government is open and tolerated. Nevertheless it is important to underline that while liberty may exist in Georgia, this does not translate into democracy. The formal framework of the multi-party politics belies a profound personalisation of party politics in which notions of stable political constituencies are largely irrelevant.
Individuals, rather than collective interests, dominate Georgian politics, with the consequence that political parties rarely outlive their leaders. This is in turn a reflection of the fact that differentiated social strata, possessing definable common interests and political orientations, have yet to emerge at sufficient levels to support political parties representing them. This is a problem much more deep-rooted than the political immaturity of a nascent democracy.
Rather than a multi-party system where political parties occupy contrasting positions on an ideological spectrum, Georgian party politics is an inchoate and highly fluid admixture of competing patronage, regional and economic interest groups. Thus although Georgian party politics is pluralistic, it is far from being either ideologically coherent or uniformly representative.
Parliamentary representation is dependent on crossing a threshold of 7% of the national vote, which means that the vast majority of Georgian political parties (of which there are dozens) are not represented. The imposition of the threshold, designed to result in more consolidated political parties, has not had the desired effect. Rather, electoral blocs composed of groups often radically divergent in orientation form to contest elections and having served their purpose rapidly dissipate in the aftermath of elections.
Most of the leading rivals contending the 2003 elections were in the past allied with one another, while in other cases previously sworn enemies made for curious bedfellows in new political alliances. These alliances are best understood in terms of the rising and falling political stars of key individuals, and the strategic benefits of alliance-making allowing smaller parties to secure representation.
Party funding remains obscure. In some cases, particularly for parties representing political incumbents, there is no distinction between party and the state since their ruling cadres are coextensive. In other cases, business interests have funded party formation and activities. Other more credible parties suffer from serious funding problems, since supporter subscription is an alien concept and quite unrealistic on a mass level in the current environment.
3. The 2 November 2003 Parliamentary Elections
3.1 The Institutional Framework
The institutional framework of the Georgian legislature remained unchanged in its basic structure. The unicameral Georgian parliament consists of 235 seats, elected for a four-year term. Of these, 150 members of parliament (MPs) are elected through a proportional system from party lists, from those parties passing a 7% threshold for representation (the threshold applies to the turnout rather than the total number of registered voters). The remaining 85 MPs are elected from constituencies corresponding to Georgia’s districts (raionebi) on a first-past-the-post system. These so-called ‘majoritarian’ candidates must secure at least one third of the total votes cast; failing this, a second round of ‘run-off’ elections is stipulated. Since elections were not held in the seceded territories, 10 majoritarian mandates remained reserved for MPs elected in Abkhazia in 1992.
The framework of the election administration is also largely unchanged, being divided into a three-level system. At the apex of the system with overall responsibility for the administration of the elections is a 15-member Central Electoral Commission (CEC). Accountable to the CEC are 75 District Electoral Commissions (DECs), which correspond broadly to Georgia’s administrative regions (raionebi). Tbilisi is subdivided into 10 election districts, while the major cities of Poti, Rustavi, Batumi and Kutaisi all form their own election districts.
Accountable in turn to the relevant DEC are 2,864 Precinct Electoral Commissions (PECs). The number of PECs in an election district varies according to population size.
3.2 The Election Law and Recent Changes
The legal framework for the elections was provided by the Unified Election Code (UEC), adopted in 2001 and amended in April 2002 and August 2003. This is an Organic Law subordinate to the Constitution, and may be clarified by CEC ordinances and decrees.
Protracted confrontation over the composition and principles of appointment of the election administration was a dominant feature of the months preceding the elections. Finally in August 2003 a number of transitional measures were adopted to improve the election administration framework. These measures established substantial amendments very late in the day given the election timeframe, even though these amendments were generally viewed as improvements. This had the result that shifting deadlines were a recurrent feature of the election, right up to election day itself.
The transitional measures were adopted with a strong input from the international community, most obviously in the visit of the former Secretary of State of the United States, James Baker, as a special envoy of President Bush. Baker submitted a number of proposals, known as the ‘Baker Scorecard’, which addressed several issues. Most importantly, in an attempt to resolve the imbroglio over the composition of the CEC, Baker offered an alternative formula allocating five appointees to the government and nine to oppositional political parties, while the chair would be selected by the OSCE.
At the end of August it was a slight – but important – variation on this formula that was ratified by parliament. Of the nine nominations allocated to oppositional parties, parliament reserved five for those parties that secured representation in 1999, Revival and Industry Will Save Georgia. This left the more genuinely oppositional parties (the Burjanadze-Democrats, Labour, the New Rightists and the National Movement) with only four seats on the CEC.
The composition of the CEC was reduced from 17 to 15 members and the manner of their appointment changed. In accordance with the transitional provisions, President Shevardnadze appointed the CEC Chair, the incumbent ombudsman (Public Defender) Nana Devdariani, from a shortlist of three nominations selected by the Special Representative of the Chairman in Office of the OSCE and the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in Georgia. In addition the president appointed a further 5 members. The remainder of the CEC were appointed by political parties reflecting their representation in the parliament in the following manner: Revival (3 members); Industry Will Save Georgia (2 members); New Rightists, National Movement, Labour, Burjanadze-Democrats (1 member apiece).
In practice, this arrangement proved highly controversial since it allowed for tactical alliances between the presidential contingent and those of the dominant parties to achieve a two-thirds majority, thereby excluding the other four parties and, potentially, the Chair. As in the past, the system of constituting the electoral administration on the basis of party representatives continued to have an adverse effect, since in many instances commission members put partisan party interests before their responsibilities to the electoral process itself.
The appointment of DECs followed the same format. The CEC Chair appointed DEC chairs, who in turn appointed the PEC chairs. In contrast to the higher-level commissions, PECs could consist of fewer than 15 members but with a minimum of 9 members. The appointment of the DEC chairs was dominated by those groups forming a majority in the CEC (presidential appointees, Revival and Industry): of the 75 DEC chairs appointed, 60 were nominated by these groups.
This left only 7 DEC chairs nominated by the other opposition parties. This was especially significant since in the case of tied votes in the decision-making procedures of the electoral commissions, the chair held the deciding vote. Furthermore, of the 7 opposition-appointed DECs chairs several were subsequently replaced by the CEC. This prejudiced the legitimacy of the election administration, which appeared to be constituted according to political interests.
3.3 Voter Registration
The compilation of the voters’ list was the single most significant flaw in the 2003 parliamentary elections. Despite a decade of experience in conducting elections the Georgian government, the body ultimately responsible for compiling and updating the voters’ register, was apparently incapable of fulfilling this duty. This is a matter of serious concern, since in its basic principles the UEC provides an adequate framework for the compilation of a comprehensive and verifiable electoral register.
The registration process for the 2 November poll was state-initiated and centralised, but placed a considerable onus on individual voter scrutiny. The abandonment of the system of supplementary voters’ lists was welcome in view of the abuse of this mechanism in previous elections. Work began on the compilation of the voters’ list in spring 2003.
The Ministry of Interior (MoI), the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the Ministry of Refugees and Settlement (MoRS) as well as city and municipality bodies were responsible for the compiling of voter data. The MoI, by drawing on a civilian database for the issuing of ID cards, was responsible for providing data relating to voters on Georgian territory and for determining which persons were of an age to vote on election day. The MoRS provided data for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), while the MoJ was responsible for collating details on deceased persons and on those under arrest or in custody. Consulates registered voters overseas and delivered two copies to the CEC by 10 September 2003.
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) was originally contracted to computerize the lists for the regions, and it was duly supplied with lists from the MoI and other relevant ministries and began processing them on 21 July. For reasons that remain unclear, IFES was not initially contracted to computerise voters’ lists in Tbilisi. Originally, the outgoing CEC assumed responsibility for computerizing the Tbilisi list on the basis of MoI data, but the new CEC later delegated this task to IFES in August. It supplied IFES with data for Tbilisi city in electronic – rather than the original hard copy – format.
IFES completed computerisation of the lists for the regions and for Tbilisi in late September and early October respectively, operating from an American-financed computer centre staffed at its peak by 500 people. A preliminary list (comprising 2,726,460 entries) was available on the internet and displayed in PECs from 4 October for public scrutiny. It was immediately obvious that the list contained many anomalies, especially in the Tbilisi area. In response, the CEC requested that PECs verify the IFES data for their own particular catchment areas against local police records for passport control.
Making the voters list available for inspection by the general public was an important step in transparency. Its availability on the internet had limited effect, however, because so few people – especially outside Tbilisi – actually have access to the internet; furthermore, the CEC servers were unable to support the volume of traffic. Voters could also check by the alternative means of the standard directory enquiries telephone service – or by phoning their PEC.
The final IFES list, comprising 2,762,437 entries, was received by the CEC on 8 October 2003 and was subsequently distributed to DECs for verification and updating. However, many DECs did not return amendments to the CEC before the twentieth day prior to the election as stipulated by the UEC.
Amendments and corrections of the data were not carried out effectively or in timely fashion; as a consequence the voters’ register remained highly inaccurate, and deadlines for the publication of the final corrected lists were extended by CEC decree. Rather than the ten days prior to election day required by law, the final list appeared only on 28 October with a revised total of 3,178,593 registered voters. Unregistered voters were only given the period up to 18.00 hrs on 31 October to begin procedures for amendment. This was to be done through a court order and any change on the electoral register was to be handwritten. This was an insufficient period of time for voters to be able to check their status on the list, or to initiate court proceedings for inclusion in good time for election day. As a consequence courts were unable to handle voters’ appeals in the three days between the publication of the finalised list and election day itself.
The Autonomous Republic of Adjara compiled its own voters’ list, but refused to submit it by the legal deadline on the grounds that the CEC had still not published its own list. No data was actually received at the CEC from Adjara prior to election day; when the Adjarian results were submitted, however, these indicated a total electorate in Adjara of 292,248 voters.
This was an unprecedented and implausible increase of over 20% in registered voters relative to the presidential poll in 2000. In contrast to the improved transparency of the main compilation process, voters’ list compilation in Adjara was completely opaque, raising serious doubts as to the credibility of the voters’ list for this region.
A comprehensive, accurate and transparently compiled voters’ register is an essential foundation for any election. The manifest failure of the Georgian electoral administration and the ministries involved to supply one was a major blow to public confidence in the elections as a whole. There are several reasons behind this failure.
First, the late constitution of the CEC had knock on effects across a whole range of its activities, including the compilation of the voters’ list. Second, the electoral administration was characterised by a lack of professionalism, particularly with regards to meeting the deadlines required by the UEC. Problems with amending the data computerized by IFES (see below) ultimately led to the abandonment of a centralized voters’ register and the closure of the IFES computer centre on 26 October by CEC decree.
This led to a decentralization of the voters’ register and considerable ambiguity as to which list would be used. To this day it is still unclear exactly which lists were used where on election day. IFES blames problems arising from the absence of an integrated address system, and inaccuracies in obsolete data received from the ministries. In the run-up and aftermath of the elections all bodies involved in compiling the voters’ list sought to shift the blame, and in doing so lost further credibility in the eyes of the electorate.
Third, the process of compiling the voters’ register suffered from mismanagement and poorly defined areas of responsibility. The out-sourcing of crucial stages of the electoral process to multiple international and domestic organisations led to a situation where the CEC was not in proper control. This was exacerbated by severe time constraints and underestimation of the immensity of the task at hand by all involved. For example the training of electoral administration staff, outsourced to the United Nations Development Programme, began too late to be of effective use, in most cases beginning only two weeks prior to the election.
Lastly, and more controversially, suspicions that the confusion over the voters’ lists was deliberately organised cannot be wholeheartedly refuted. The CEC Chair, Nana Devdariani, suspects technical glitches in the software used and thinks that these may have been deliberate. She described how she spent four days and nights at the computer centre inputting corrections, only for the same mistakes to reappear. Furthermore, one of the two main programmers was suddenly and inexplicably unavailable at the crucial juncture of data amendment. The most common problems that arose leading up to the elections and on election day itself were duplicated and deceased entries and voters assigned to incorrect precincts. In many instances voters that had been on the list one month previously found that they had been removed from the final corrected versions. Conversations between LINKS observers and numerous voters across the country on polling day revealed that utter confusion reigned in the voters’ list, with some members of the same household being included while others were omitted.
3.4 Party and Candidate Registration
A total of 39 parties were registered by the CEC to contest the elections; of these, 13 stood alone, while the remainder was constituted into 9 blocs (See Appendix I). There were thus 22 contenders in all for the 150 proportional list mandates. For the 75 majoritarian mandates a total of 460 candidates were registered, with 100 rejections or withdrawals. While some irregularities appear to have accompanied the candidate registration process at DEC level, these appear to have been mainly procedural and not systematic.
The real battleground in the election was for the proportional party list vote. Several major parties did not field candidates in many of the majoritarian mandate constituencies, leaving them to be fought over by local ‘strongmen’.
The parties fielding the largest number of majoritarian candidates were the pro-government bloc (53 candidates), Labour (50 candidates) and Revival (49 candidates). None of the other major parties fielded candidates for more than half of the majoritarian seats. In a small number of majoritarian constituencies there was minimal or no choice between candidates. In Lentekhi and Chokhatauri districts only one candidate stood, both for the pro-governmental bloc, while in Gardabani, Ninotsminda and Tqibuli districts only two candidates ran. In some cases this appears to have been the result of obstruction preventing opposition candidates from mounting effective campaigns against pro-governmental candidates. On the whole, however, the vast majority of constituencies did enjoy a real choice between multiple candidates.
3.5 The Campaign
Due to the emergence of a new generation of well-organized oppositional forces in the country, Georgia’s long-standing incumbents faced their most significant challenge yet in this election. This made the campaign especially heated and, at times, resulted in violence. The campaign was dominated by two key trends. The first was the determination of incumbents – those political forces in the orbit of President Shevardnadze, and at the regional level those collected around the leader of the Adjarian Autonomous Republic, Aslan Abashidze – to minimize the ceding of power to the groups collectively referred to as the ‘opposition’. The development of well-organized and articulate opposition parties should have led to rewards for the electorate in terms of campaigning standards. However, incumbents manifestly failed to raise their game, relying instead on more insidious methods of securing victory. The second key trend was the jockeying of potential contenders and their affiliated groups for the presidential election scheduled for 2005. To a considerable extent this explains the extreme disunity among different strands of the opposition, although major opposition groups also believed there were distinct electoral rewards to be gained by running on separate tickets and forming alliances later.
In a broad sense the 2003 campaign was pluralistic, with a wide range of organized and generally unimpeded campaigns run by the contending parties. The nature of the pluralism on offer needs qualification, however. Rather than ideological choices based on clearly differentiated political platforms, the elections were dominated by intense competition between political personalities. The intensity of this contest, at times trawling the depths of political character assassination, obscured an apparently broad consensus in terms of the electoral platforms offered by most of the major parties. In terms of their proposed solutions to Georgia’s current political and socio-economic problems, there was little to differentiate the major contenders in the election.
The same themes and solutions, with differences only of degree, recurred across the political ‘spectrum’: increases in social security guarantees, the necessity of the free market, activation of the economy through the encouragement of small-scale business and reform of Georgia’s Byzantine taxation regime, the rooting out of corruption, the restoration of territorial integrity, the safe-guarding of national security and identity, integration with European structures and a generally pro-Western geo-strategic orientation. This in turn reflects the fact that in Georgian society at large, a broad consensus does exist on these key policy issues. This disjunction between commonality of purpose and intense rivalry between personalities was a salient feature of the campaign.
Corruption was the principal issue bringing together the personal and the political. It consistently loomed large particularly in the rhetoric of the opposition. Rather than being addressed as a question of systemic failure, however, political capital was made through the personalization of the issue in accusations of corruption against leading incumbents. The resulting allegations and counter-allegations contributed to a widespread disenchantment among the electorate towards all politicians. The perennial issue of the restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity remained peripheral to the campaign. This reflects the fact that few viable strategies for resolving Georgia’s ethno-territorial conflicts are on offer from any of Georgia’s political forces.
Countering the opposition’s adoption of a moral high ground in the campaign, incumbents deployed a number of other strategies involving the use of state – rather than party – resources, and control over the electoral process itself (see below). Through their control of the election administration, and in some areas outright manipulation of the results, incumbents had considerable resources at their disposal that no amount of effective campaigning by opposition groups could offset. An ever-widening discrepancy between campaigning effectiveness and its reflection in the final results were consequently an important feature of this election. This disjunction, effectively a denial of the possibility of change through the ballot box, was a major source of outrage among the opposition and public disillusionment with the entire electoral process.
3.6 Major Political Parties and Blocs
For a New Georgia (akhali sakartvelostvis)
The creation of For a New Georgia (FNG), a bloc uniting five political parties and a number of parliamentary factions, was announced by President Shevardnadze in April 2003. The bloc essentially represented a marriage of convenience between incumbents and a number of smaller parties unable to secure representation alone. The core of the bloc was comprised by the CUG, a spent force in Tbilisi but retaining a nationwide party structure; the Green Party, a small centre-right party originally formed in 1990 by former Shevardnadze ally Zurab Zhvania; the Christian Democratic Party, founded in 1989 and oriented towards the centre-right; the Socialist Party, founded in 1995 and previously in opposition to the government in the last parliamentary elections; and finally the National Democratic Party, a major opposition party coming second in the 1995 elections but now a fragmented and marginal player.
FNG’s platform, entitled ‘From Stability to Development’, was focussed on offering stability through economic growth by means of continued reform, social security guarantees and the development of private business, digital technologies, and so on. Hypothetically, considerable differences of political orientation existed between the constituent parties of the bloc. These were not emphasised, however, as the bloc’s lacklustre campaign was based more on an appeal to stability through the continuation of the status quo, and character assassinations of other party leaders.
One of the bloc’s leading figures, Vakhtang Rcheulishvili (Chairman of the Socialist Party), conceded that opposition parties enjoyed greater popularity in the population at large, but pointed to a number of pillars of support upon whom FNG could rely: the national minority vote, the vote of all those in the public sector and – he admitted freely – a margin of fraud at 5-6%. FNG could, however, legitimately claim to take the most inclusive stance vis-ŕ-vis national minorities, fielding the largest number of candidates drawn from other ethnic groups.
Union of Democratic Revival (aghordzineba)
The Union of Democratic Revival (hereafter Revival), under the leadership of the Adjarian Autonomous Republic’s chairman Aslan Abashidze, has proved to be one of the more enduring of Georgian political parties. Formed in 1992 and initially aligned with Shevardnadze in the 1995 parliament, Revival emerged as the head of an oppositional bloc (the ‘Batumi Alliance’) in 1999 in association with various other disaffected elements. Following its success in the 1999 election, the party’s faction in the outgoing parliament numbered 15 MPs.
Revival’s consistency has less to do with electoral success, however, than with its status as ‘democratic’ window dressing for the leadership of the Adjarian autonomy. Revival is the chief beneficiary of opacity in all stages of the electoral process in Adjara (see below, ‘Regionalised Fraud’). Although Revival’s tactical opposition to Shevardnadze has in the past allowed it to extend its appeal beyond Adjara’s borders, control over an inflated Adjarian vote is the core of its electoral ‘strategy’.
Revival’s political orientation combined ‘rightist and centrist orientations’; although the real locus of its power is in Adjara, it claimed some 170,000 members nationwide. The party mounted a well-funded campaign with lavish campaigning materials emphasising prosperity through stability (holding Adjara up as a model for the rest of Georgia), a return to Soviet-style social guarantees and rapprochement with Russia.
Revival’s nationwide appeal remains compromised by Abashidze’s refusal to leave Adjara, leaving the party’s national campaign in the hands of less recognizable figures. Revival officials complained of bias among both nationwide media, especially the Rustavi-2 TV channel, and international NGOs. At the regional level in Adjara, however, the obverse situation obtained, with Revival enjoying unrivalled control over local Adjarian media sources (national media are also available in Adjara). Revival also held a campaigning monopoly in Adjara as other parties were prevented, sometimes violently, from mounting activities in the region (see below).
The Burjanadze-Democrats bloc unites a number of the disaffected elements to have emerged from the imploding CUG. Explicitly styling itself as an opposition force, the core of the bloc is the coalition between Zurab Zhvania, former speaker of parliament and leader of the United Democrats party formed in November 2002, and the parliament’s current speaker, Nino Burjanadze. Burjanadze was elected to the 1995 and 1999 parliaments through the CUG party list and succeeded Zhvania as parliamentary speaker in November 2001. The United Democrats formed the largest faction in the outgoing parliament, with 23 MPs.
The coalition was announced in August 2003 and also includes the Union of Georgian Traditionalists, headed by another ex-speaker of parliament, Akaki Asatiani.
The bloc’s programme was centred on improving the business environment in Georgia by reducing bureaucratic influence, and on a wide-ranging platform for administrative reform, including a reduction in presidential powers, the abolition of the presidential appointment system for regional governors, the introduction of a two-chamber parliament and a cabinet of ministers. The bloc also advocated affirmative action programmes for the integration of national minorities, and was one of the very few parties to produce campaigning materials in minority languages.
The bloc’s main appeal resided in the political experience and prudence of its leaders, an appeal summed up in the statement “we are not radicals”. In its own estimation, the party appealed most strongly to the Georgian intelligentsia and the republic’s emergent but still tiny middle class. As a result its support base is largely urban. It ran an active and well-publicized campaign, with Burjanadze travelling to most regions of the country; the bloc nevertheless reported intimidation of its officials by pro-government forces.
National Movement (saakashvili – natsionaluri modzraoba)
The National Movement comprised a bloc of three parties, the United National Movement, the Republican Party and United National Forces. Mikheil Saakashvili, previously a member of the CUG and a former Justice Minister, formed the United National Movement in November 2001.
With a strong input from MPs elected in 1999 through the CUG, the party styled itself as an opposition party, and subsequently came second in the local elections of 2002. Saakashvili later became chairman of the Tbilisi City Council. The Republican Party is a small party originally founded around a dissident core in 1978, and in the previous elections was aligned with the National Democratic Party. In its essence, the National Movement’s electoral platform differed little from that of the Burjanadze-Democrats. It proposed the creation of an improved business environment through simplification of the tax code and the reduction of bureaucratic interference, the creation of an anti-monopoly body, the reform of law enforcement agencies including the establishment of independence of the police and Prosecutor’s Office from the Chancellery and the establishment of an effective social security net for vulnerable populations.
In style, however, the National Movement was much more combative than the Burjanadze-Democrats. The party advocated a policy of restitution with regard to state assets it deemed to have been illegally acquired by incumbent officials. This gave rise to some confused debate over the National Movement’s intentions to ‘nationalise’ state assets.
The National Movement mounted the most controversial and eventful campaign of the election under the slogan “Georgia without Shevardnadze, Adjara without Abashidze”. A number of the party’s rallies organized in the regional strongholds of other parties ended in violence (see below). Extensive coverage of these events, and the images generated by them, almost certainly worked in the National Movement’s favour, allowing them to secure the spotlight as the ‘major opposition party’ by the end of the campaign.
This explains the strong showing of the National Movement in the results, fraud notwithstanding. The rhetoric and symbolism deployed by the party was strongly suffused with a sense of moral righteousness, tinged with nationalist imagery; for example, the party appropriated an instantly recognizable and resonant medieval flag as its symbol (following the change of government this flag has been made the official national of Georgia, replacing the tricolor associated with the 1918-21 Georgian Social Democratic Republic). Without claiming any political continuity with Georgia’s deposed first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Saakashvili’s discourse, portraying the election as “a struggle between good and evil” certainly recalled Gamsakhurdia’s moralising fervour. This exposed the party to accusations of populism from pro-government forces, and accusations of impetuous radicalism from its allies in the opposition.
Georgian Labour Party (sakartvelos leiboristuli partia)
The Labour Party was formed in 1995 and while enjoying limited success at the national level has performed consistently well in local elections. It exploded onto the Georgian political scene with impressive results in the 1998 local elections. In 2000 it unsuccessfully contested its narrow failure to cross the 7% threshold (with 6.82% of the vote) at the European Court of Human Rights. Its fortunes reversed in the 2002 local elections, in which it came second nationwide and won overall in Tbilisi with 25% of the vote.
The Labour party occupies a similar position ideologically to the revived Communist parties in other CIS states, without relying on Communist symbolism. Its platform emphasised social guarantees, including free public services and education, alongside increased state intervention to protect small businesses, although many of its promises were necessarily seen with some scepticism. Much of the Labour party’s ostensible appeal resided in the fact that it is not an off-shoot of the CUG, thereby representing the ‘real’ opposition. It ran an effective and visible campaign, fielding the largest number of majoritarian candidates of any opposition party.
New Rightists (akhali memarjveneebi)
The New Rightists bloc was composed of a union of the New Rightists party and the Georgian Liberal Party. This was chronologically the first group to break away from the CUG. The New Rightists party was formed in June 2001 by two influential businessmen, Davit Gamqrelidze and Levan Gachechiladze, who hold business interests in the field of wine production and insurance. Emulating the earlier success of the Industry Will Save Georgia party, the New Rightists’ formula is rooted in the technocratic expertise of proven businessmen transplanted to the field of politics. Its status as an oppositional party is ambiguous: the New Rightists styled themselves as a ‘constructive opposition’. Nevertheless in the June 2002 elections the party reaped the rewards of being the first splinter group to dissociate itself from an unpopular government, achieving significant electoral success throughout Georgia. In Tbilisi the party won 11% of the vote. The Georgian Liberal Party is a small and recently formed party (March 2003); one of its founders is the author of the 2003 Unified Election Code, Vakhtang Khmaladze.
The bloc’s programme, ‘900 Days’, was rooted in a three-pronged approach to the galvanizing of economic renewal, the provision of social guarantees and the strengthening of national security and identity. Like other parties, the bloc advocated a pro-Western orientation, including NATO membership, and emphasised both the financial independence and prudence of its leaders.
The bloc mounted a slick campaign, organized by an American PR firm. Its central appeal appeared to lie in the promise of political incorruptibility deriving from financial independence, and in its prudent approach to opposition. In the words of one New Rightists official, “we are not radicals: we want evolution, not revolution”.
The party did suffer somewhat from allegations of excessive interference from one of its sponsors, the Georgian magnate Badri Patarkatsishvili, a controversial figure, closely associated with Russian business circles and facing charges in Russia on a number of counts of financial impropriety.
Industry Will Save Georgia (mretsveloba gadaarchens sakartvelos)
Industry Will Save Georgia (IWSG) was the original ‘party of business’, whose example was successfully emulated by the New Rightists. Formed in 1999 by beer magnate Gogi Topadze, the party achieved a coup by coming third in the parliamentary elections of that year with 7.1% of the vote. In 2003 IWSG continued its union with the smaller party ‘Sporting Georgia’, upholding a tradition of eccentric alliances with figures from popular culture. As a party already represented in parliament (with 13 MPs), IWSG allied with Revival in the struggle over the CEC composition. Characterized by a technocratic rather than political appeal, IWSG defined itself as neither pro-governmental nor oppositional.
Its electoral platform was focussed on the improvement of the business environment, with an emphasis on the creation of an effective middle class though vocational training and the provision of free secondary education. Like the New Rightists, IWSG appealed to the fact that its financially independent leaders were not tainted by association with corruption. However, with its original niche in the political spectrum captured by the New Rightists, the party’s ambiguous political orientation left it in something of a political no-man’s land. Although well-funded, the party’s campaign was lacklustre compared to 1999; its official platform presentation did not take place until 21 October. Rather, it seems that the mainstay of the party in this campaign was name recognition.
Jumber Patiashvili – Unity (patiashvili – ertoba)
At best an outside contender, the Unity bloc combined the Political Union- Unity party and the Georgian Social-Democratic Party, the latter a small party trading mainly on its association with the Menshevik Social Democratic party of the early twentieth century.
The Unity party was formed in September 2001 under the leadership of Jumber Patiashvili, former First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party 1985-1989 and candidate in the 2001 presidential election. Discredited by his association with the massacre of 9 April 1989, in which Soviet Interior Ministry troops used force against a peaceful demonstration in Tbilisi, Patiashvili came second in the 2000 presidential contest with 16.7%, although the official results probably significantly underestimated his support.
He was the only candidate other than Shevardnadze to run a visible campaign and continues to enjoy support in former nomenklatura circles. Beyond the reinvigoration of Georgia’s economy, the mainstay of the bloc’s campaign in this election was improvement of Georgia’s relations with Russia. To this end the bloc’s relationship to the Russian party United Russia was emphasised as a means to remove the visa regime currently obtaining between the two countries and improve the situation of the many Georgians now working in Russia. The bloc also advocated a position of neutrality for Georgia in the international arena.
The 2 November election campaign was marred by occasional but nonetheless serious incidents of violence. These mainly involved clashes between different party supporters, but also clashes between parties and state authorities.
The main bouts of violence accompanied the campaigning activities of the National Movement bloc in the regional strongholds of parties supporting incumbents. On 26 September a National Movement rally in Bolnisi, in the governmental stronghold of Kvemo Kartli, ended in violent clashes between National Movement and For a New Georgia supporters. More seriously, on 23 October National Movement supporters clashed with Revival supporters and Adjarian Interior Ministry forces during a rally in Batumi.
In the aftermath of these clashes, National Movement offices in Batumi and Kobuleti (Adjara) were ransacked and burnt and the party’s majoritarian candidate in Kobuleti, Koba Khabazi, was beaten up and required hospitalisation with serious head injuries. On the following day, Davit Berdzenishvili, National Movement majoritarian candidate for Batumi and Chairman of the Republican Party, was hauled out of his car by unidentified men in the Adjarian village of Choloqi and seriously assaulted. According to an eyewitness, Berdzenishvili’s assaulters wore black T-shirts so as to be able to identify one another in the ensuing męlée, while local police forces remained impassive. The incident was filmed and broadcast on national media, contributing enormously to the profile of the National Movement.
Other incidents in the campaign involved the burning of campaigning offices and a number of shooting incidents involving New Rights and Revival candidates. These incidents were undoubtedly lent greater significance by repeated statements and counter-accusations on all sides of attempts to ‘destabilize’ Georgia prior to election day. Both the actual incidents of violence and the attempts by contenders from all sides to make political mileage out of them represent a deplorable departure from the otherwise peaceful conduct of the campaign.
3.8 Use of State Administrative Resources
Continuing a trend observed in previous elections there was no clear line dividing incumbents’ campaigns from state affairs or, notably, state resources. There were many credible reports and survey results indicating the use of the human and financial resources of the state in favour of specific parties. The pro-governmental For a New Georgia bloc was the major beneficiary of this trend, which took a number of forms.
• In several districts campaign headquarters were established in local government offices. In contravention of Georgian law, in a number of cases regional governors, who are appointed by the president, worked as campaign managers.
• According to independent research, the pre-election period saw attempts on the part of the Georgian executive to use financial resources to influence the election results. This included increases in transfers from the central state budget to those majoritarian constituencies where FNG was fielding candidates, and the withholding of transfers from others, and increases in social security payments and the financing of basic amenities such as electricity and road maintenance, which was again skewed towards those regions where FNG was fielding candidates.
• The mass mobilization of police personnel to vote in close-run majoritarian constituencies rather than their constituencies of residence. This was observed by LINKS in Gldani and Krtsanisi.
3.9 Regionalized fraud
The phenomenon of what might be termed ‘regionalized fraud’, characteristic of previous Georgian elections, assumed particularly egregious proportions in the 2003 parliamentary elections. While violations and problems in the electoral process have characterized the whole of Georgia, they have come to assume especially serious proportions in the regional strongholds of parties representing incumbents.
In these regions incumbents exercise near-complete control over the electoral process, allowing them to substantially augment their national representation in the proportional list vote (accounting for 150 of the 235 mandates overall). The regions in question are the autonomous republic of Adjara and the regions of Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli. Adjara and Kvemo Kartli in particular have been consistently singled out by both domestic and international observers as the locations of the most serious fraud in successive elections.
In the case of Adjara control over the electoral process at all levels comprises a major resource for the Revival party to bolster its overall performance nationwide. Soviet-era practices remain dominant in electio