U.S. Embassy Statement Following the Second Round of Georgian Municipal Elections
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.
U.S. Embassy Statement
U.S. Embassy Statement on 2021 Georgian Municipal Elections
The United States Embassy congratulates the people of Georgia and the thousands of election workers and professional domestic observers who participated in the October 2 elections. The high voter turnout despite the COVID-19 pandemic is indicative of the continued commitment of the people of Georgia to democracy and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic path. Municipal elections matter because the local level is where citizens’ needs and interests are met most directly by their elected representatives. Georgia’s citizens have frequently expressed their desire for a greater voice in decisions that affect their lives. The lack of focus on local issues in yesterday’s elections was a missed opportunity to make progress towards achieving that goal.
The United States shares the OSCE ODIHR’s initial assessment that these elections were technically well-administered, but that the environment was marred by widespread and consistent allegations of intimidation, vote-buying, pressure against candidates and voters, pervasive misuse of citizen observers as party representatives, and an uneven playing field, including in the pre-election period. While voters were able to cast their votes in a largely calm environment on October 2, the election process is about more than Election Day. We share ODIHR’s concerns about the polarized media landscape, the significant imbalance of resources and insufficient oversight of campaign finances, the under-representation of women in the campaign, reports of misuse of administrative resources, and pressure against journalists.
We commend the professional domestic election observation organizations – in particular, ISFED, GYLA, PMMG, and TI – for informing the public with sound, balanced assessments and reliable information throughout the campaign period and on Election Day. Their important contributions have, over time, improved the election process. We are concerned by reports that some of these respected domestic NGOs reported barriers to observing the elections.
The continued blurring of the line between state and party resources is deeply disturbing. Significant reports about the misuse of administrative resources during the campaign raised doubts about the overall fairness of the elections. In many towns and villages, pressure against teachers, law enforcement officers, and other public sector workers reportedly interfered with their ability to exercise their free choice on Election Day. This type of abuse has occurred too often in Georgian elections and is wholly incompatible with Georgia’s democratic and Euro-Atlantic ideals. There is a dangerous risk that these and other recurring elections violations are becoming accepted as inevitable. Georgian voters deserve a higher standard of integrity in their election process.
We also regret actions that are likely to further polarize and destabilize Georgia’s already tense political situation, and parties’ emphasis on personal attacks rather than addressing voters’ priorities. These actions call into question some political parties’ commitment to the principle that political legitimacy should be won or lost at the ballot box.
We commend Parliament’s recent efforts to adopt electoral reforms to address some of the deficiencies identified during previous elections. While some measures resulted in positive changes, the overall failure to significantly reduce recurring patterns of violations, especially during the pre-election period, is disappointing. We call on Parliament, including opposition parties, to recommit in good faith to strengthening Georgia’s election system in a comprehensive manner; to implement key reforms – including judicial reforms – recommended by ODIHR, the Venice Commission, and Georgia’s international partners; and to pass constitutional amendments ensuring that all future parliamentary elections will be fully proportional, as they have previously pledged to do. This reform process must be implemented hand-in-hand with citizens and civil society.
Now is the time to build political alliances among parties to urgently address the issues that are most important to Georgia’s citizens. As it has in the past, Georgia must meet the challenges of building its democracy with courage, compromise, and resolve. Each election is a chance to strengthen and improve the democratic process. On October 2, Georgia’s citizens exercised their precious right to vote, to be heard, and to hold their political leaders accountable. We call on all parties to resist efforts to further polarize the political situation, to maintain a calm post-election environment, and to ensure the fair, impartial adjudication of electoral complaints. The second round of voting is an opportunity to improve the process and conduct an orderly, competitive run-off with results Georgians can have full confidence in.
The United States is proud to have stood alongside the people of Georgia over the decades and we will continue to support Georgia’s efforts to build a strong democracy, a prosperous economy, and a stable, secure country.