The National Democratic Institute - Georgia has released a report regarding their assessment mission for the pre-election period of the October 2017 local self-government elections in Georgia.
From July 17-21, an international delegation from NDI held meetings with political parties, NGOs, and state agencies. NDI announced they will deploy a team of long-term international observers to Georgia in August.
The full report from NDI can be read here. Part of the summary of the report is printed here:
“As the country prepares for local elections while simultaneously undertaking controversial constitutional, electoral, and local government reform processes, two parallel Georgias have emerged. One, seen through the lens of ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party, is characterized by very few democratic challenges: a media environment free from political pressure; swift and unbiased adjudication of electoral and political cases; robust and pluralistic political competition; and reforms that provide no political benefit to GD. The other, held by nearly all other interlocutors with whom the delegation met, represents a stark contrast to this vision: it is characterized by uneven application of the law; an unbalanced electoral playing field; reforms designed to benefit the ruling party; shrinking media space for alternative viewpoints; informal governance; and abuse of state resources. The diverging assessments of the political environment and self-isolation of the ruling party call for more meaningful and inclusive consultations and deliberation. Neglecting to do so could impede the country’s democratic credentials and lead to instability.
Georgians have high standards for their leaders and institutions and will expect a credible electoral process. In support of their ambitions and the broader democratic process, NDI’s delegation noted several key challenges and opportunities in upcoming the electoral process. The election administration enjoys confidence among most interlocutors, although some areas for improvement remain. Three controversial reform processes are being conducted very close to election day and lack sufficient transparency and inclusiveness. Abuse of state resources, an entrenched and longstanding problem in Georgia, remains a widespread concern. Media faces the challenge of providing the public with reliable information about their electoral choices, while the space for pluralistic political discussion appears to be shrinking. Hate speech and disinformation have begun to stoke hostility in the electoral environment.
Coming at a critical juncture in Georgia’s democratic path, the October 2017 local elections, the exact date of which has not been set, carry particular weight. They provide an opportunity for Georgia to address remaining, entrenched electoral challenges. Because Georgia rightfully takes pride in its democratic and European trajectory, the need to fully address repeated recommendations from the past is all the more striking and significant. The country has the skills, time, support, experience, and resources to adopt many of these recommendations. What is still needed is sufficient political will.”
Regarding specific recommendations, NDI stated that: “These included more inclusive, consensus-based constitutional and legal reform processes; a political party code of conduct emphasizing a commitment to nonviolence; changes in parties’ internal behaviors and practices to attract and prioritize women candidates, as well as ensuring a minimum of 30 percent women candidates on sakrebulo party lists; improved training for poll workers on counting and reconciliation procedures; concrete strategies to mitigate against disinformation; impartial and timely application of justice; and increased support for local media outlets and citizen election observer groups.”