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“Leaders of the neighborhoods” and other peculiarities of the local self-government elections

30.10.2017

 
Natia Gogolashvili

On October 21, local self-government election was held in Georgia. Local and international observers monitored the election process. Human Rights Center monitored the elections in two regions of Georgia: Kakheti region - in the villages compactly inhabited with ethnic minorities in Sagarejo, Telavi and Akhmeta municipalities; and in Shida Kartli region – conflict-affected villages in Gori municipality.

After the polling process was over, HRC monitors observed opening of the ballot boxes and counting of the votes in respective precincts.

HRC observers lodged 3 complaints about the election procedures violation in the precincts and recorded several remarks in the log-book. The complaints referred to the problems in the control of the flow of voters, breached confidentiality of the voter in the process of voting and restricted right to vote. Human Rights Center filed 2 complaints to Telavi and Sagarejo DECs.

According to the observers, low qualification of the commission members is still a problem of the election administration. Majority of the violations from the side of PEC members was caused by their poor qualification and lack of knowledge of the election code. These problems are particularly alarming in the villages compactly inhabited by ethnic minorities, where low competence of the PEC members often cause tension and sometimes conflicts.

HRC observers reported that most violations were observed in the villages of ethnic Azerbaijani community in Sagarejo and Telavi municipalities, where on the one hand incompetence of the commission members and on the other hand low public awareness and lack of knowledge of the election legislation by the voters caused tensions and in some precincts we observed violations. 

The observers said neutrality of the PEC members shall be evaluated negatively, particularly in the villages compactly inhabited with ethnic minorities, where commission members often are supporters of the ruling party. According to the observers, due that partiality they violate the law or keep their eyes blind on the violations by voters.

For example, in the Precinct # 38 (Duzagrama village) in Sagarejo DEC # 11 principle of confidentiality was violated as reported by the observer. Several voters marked election number 41 outside the cabin and the commission members did not react. Another voter in the same precinct asked the commission member to teach how to mark the desired election subject. The commission member marked election number 41 teaching her how to mark the candidate. HRC observer lodged a complaint about these violations. Commission members denied her to register the complaint. After a resistance, the PEC registered the complaint. There were some other violations observed in the precincts of the Sagarejo municipality villages. 

HRC observer Eka Lomidze was observing the elections in the Precinct # 39 in Sagarejo DEC # 11, village of Duzagrama. She said some PEC members were incompetent and they needed instructions. 

“As soon as I arrived at the precinct, I detected that the person responsible to control the flow of the voters did not identify the people according to their ID cards. After I gave a remark the situation improved. In the first part of the day a voter woman tried to vote second time. The flow controller detected that she was already marked. The PEC members and the chairperson were eager to let her in the precinct claiming that she had not signed her box in the voters’ list. They also claimed that being a doctor, the woman may have some substance similar to the marking ink on her finger. I gave a remark to the PEC chairperson about the fact and finally they did not allow her to vote second time,” Eka Lomidze said.

In its final press-release Human Rights Center reported that excessive activity and attempt to control the voters by the coordinators and agitators of political parties have become an alarming tendency. 

According to the assessment of the organization, in Georgia we have a new profession – “Counter of the voters” the people who are “trained” in the offices of the political parties in between the elections and during each election they are deployed in the precincts to control the turn out of the voters and count their number. HRC monitors said the coordinators of the ruling party Georgian Dream were particularly numerous and active in the vicinities of the precincts. They did not hide their activities: they freely recorded the people who had come to vote and even talked with them. 

Although the election code does not prohibit presence of the coordinators nearby the polling stations, the monitors state similar facts directly or indirectly hinder the demonstration of free will of voters in the election process.

“So called agitators and leaders of the neighborhoods, like they call themselves, were mobilized in the yards and vicinities of almost all polling stations. They recorded who had come to vote. So-called leaders of the neighborhood stated they were appointed by the Georgian Dream and their responsibility was to control the polling stations. We also observed public officials in the precincts,” Netan Londaridze, observer of Human Rights Center, said.

HRC observer Eka Kobesashvili said this systemic problem was particularly alarming in the Karajala village of Telavi municipality. Polling stations # 37, 38, 39 and 54 of Telavi DEC # 17 are located next to each other in the center of Karajala village. For that reason, particularly large amount of voters were gathered in the area. The local election headquarter of the Georgian Dream is also located nearby. Supporters of the ruling party are mobilized in front of their local office. They actively contacted the voters before they entered the polling stations. 

Eka Kobesashvili was coordinator of the mobile group of observers in the local self-government elections in Telavi election district # 17.

“In the precinct # 37 of Telavi DEC # 17 (Karajala village) a voter arrived, who was not marked, but the PEC chairperson did not allow him to vote because somebody had already signed in his box on the voters’ registration list. The PEC chairperson told us the registrar was tired and he had already written explanation letter about similar mistake and did not want to write second one. After our demands, the PEC members called the DEC and received instruction to allow the voter to vote. After that the voter managed to vote and the commission member wrote one more clarification in the log book. I also made a note in the log-book and 20 minutes later the similar incident repeated – a voter without marking arrived but his box was already signed. The PEC members did not allow him to vote and I lodged a complaint both to the PEC and DEC,” Eka Kobesashvili said. 

On October 23, HRC lawyer Lia Khuroshvili attended the discussion of the HRC observer’s complaint in the Telavi DEC # 17. During the discussion, the DEC members balloted to reprimand to the PEC chair Elza Ashirova or not. The DEC concluded that Elza Ashirova had not violated the election law.

“Their basic argument was that the complaint did not mention the name and ID number of the voter, whose right to vote was violated. Consequently, the Commission could not double check his name in the voters’ list that could be done by the observer on the place on the Election Day. The DEC delivered two clarifications of the PEC chairperson and the registrar, who noted that the voter was not registered in the voters’ list, because according to his clarification, he might be moved to the voters’ list in Tbilisi. As for the signature in his box, it was done by his brother, who had already voted in the same precinct,” Lia Khuroshvili said.

Human Rights Center’s observer Tamar Lukava observed the election process in five precincts of the Akhmeta election district # 18. The precincts were located in the villages of Duisi, Jokolo, Birkiani, Khalatsani, Dumasturi and Omalo in Pankisi Gorge. HRC observers said the election process was carried out in peaceful and fair environment in the villages of Gorge, though some minor violations were observed.

“I left the precinct at about 3 pm to check the situation around the polling station. I discovered the agitation booklet of the Georgian Dream on the stand, where the list of voters was placed. I informed the PEC chairperson about the violation and he said he was in charge of the situation only inside the polling station and could not control ongoing process outside the precinct. After my remark, representative of one of the political parties destroyed the booklet,” HRC observer Giorgi Kakubava said.
 
“In one of the precincts a citizen followed a voter into the ballot booth to assist. According to our observer’s assumption the citizen was not registered in the voters’ list of that particular precinct. We could not file complaint about this incident because we could not identify the name of the person who assisted the voter; neither we could find the witness who could confirm the fact,” Tamar Lukava said.

According to the monitors’ assessment, the election process was carried out in peaceful environment in the conflict-affected villages of Gori municipality. 

According to the evaluation of Human Rights Center, the polling process was carried out mainly in peaceful and fair environment in the polling stations where our monitors observed the process. The observed violations could not influence the final results of the elections. 

Human Rights Center observed the local elections with 25 monitors. Journalists of the online newspaper humanrights.ge and video-portal Hridc.TV also observed and covered the ongoing local elections. The information about the election process and observed violations provided by the observers and journalists was operatively published on the facebook page of the organization and on the online newspaper www.humanrights.ge in Georgian and English languages; the information was also sent out to different media organizations.

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