Local elections

The Local Elections - An Unfulfilled Triumph

Dimitri Avaliani
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The 15 June local elections were the second elections held in Georgia after the change in power in 2012. Although the Georgian Dream coalition again emerged as the winner in this election, their victory was more modest than in the 2013 presidential and 2012 parliamentary elections. In the local elections the Georgian Dream received 51% support, down from the 62% garnered in the presidential election.

Davit Narmania, the Georgian Dream candidate for the position of Tbilisi Mayor, casting his ballot with his family. Photo: Dimitri Chikvaidze
Furthermore, voter turnout in this election was quite low. The data of the Central Election Commission (CEC) shows that only 43% of voters arrived at precincts to cast their ballots. The corresponding indicator in the presidential election stood at 46%, whilst in the 2012 parliamentary election it exceeded 60%. Voter turnout in the local election was even lower in Tbilisi, standing at only 37% (against 48% in the 2013 presidential election).

These election statistics clearly indicate a significant drop in the support for the Georgian Dream. As compared to the presidential election, the results of the ruling force decreased in both Tbilisi and in almost every district, save for a few rare exceptions.

In absolute numbers, some 175,000 fewer voters cast their ballots in the local election than in the presidential election. The Georgian Dream was voted for by 293,000 fewer voters. Consequently, the ruling coalition lost around 120,000 supporters in this election.

In Tbilisi, the Georgian Dream received approximately 152,000 votes by party list, whilst Davit Narmania, the Georgian Dream candidate for the position of Tbilisi Mayor, also received around 152,000 votes, which is almost half of the 289,000 votes that the Georgian Dream received in the 2013 presidential election.

A comparison of the percentage of votes received in the local elections in Tbilisi by the Georgian Dream and the United National Movement (UNM) shows a sharp weakening of the Georgian Dream's position and a clear strengthening of that of the UNM over the results of the presidential election. In all districts of Tbilisi support for the Georgian Dream fell by double-digit figures. For example, the decrease of support in Mtatsminda was 22 percentage points (they received 63% of the vote in the 2013 election and 41% in the 2014 election). In other districts of Tbilisi, the decrease was in the range of between 13-18%.

At the same time, the results of the UNM increased in Tbilisi, as compared to the 2013 presidential election. The highest increase was seen in Mtatsminda, where the UNM was up by 11 percentage points. In other districts of Tbilisi, the increase was in the range of 3-8%.

Dimitri Lortkipanidze, the candidate for the position of Tbilisi Mayor from the Nino Burjanadze-United Opposition Party.
Judging by the statements of the government, however, the ruling party does not seem to realize that its position has become weakened. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili believes that in the event of high voter turnout, the Georgian Dream would have reached at least a 75% indicator of support. The explanation he offered for the low turnout was that "society has full confidence towards our government."

"Speculation that this is a certain signal, a message to our government; that it is a sort of warning – is absolutely exaggerated," said the prime minister.

Moreover, according to Garibashvili, the election results prove that the UNM is not a serious political force. In his words, only 6.1% of the UNM's majoritarian candidates won in the election and "this is exactly what we were talking about when we said that their real rating is 6%." By the same logic, however, if judged according to the result of the presidential election, the Georgian Dream's rating must be 100% and that of the UNM 0%.

For her part, Georgian Dream MP Tina Khidasheli, who was also relying on the number of majoritarian candidates, noted that the UNM's rating is between 3-4%, whilst the support mustered by Nika Melia, the UNM candidate for the position of Tbilisi Mayor, has nothing to do with the rating of his party.

The UNM, which received 22.41% of the vote nationwide (the UNM presidential candidate Davit Bakradze received 21.72% in the 2013 presidential election), got 317,000 votes in absolute numbers across the country. This is almost 37,000 fewer votes than had been received in the previous election in 2013. By party list, the UNM mustered 86,000 votes in Tbilisi, 6,000 less than had been received by Davit Bakradze in Tbilisi in 2013. At the same time, Nika Melia received slightly fewer votes (down by 1,500 votes), than Bakradze did last year in Tbilisi.

The trends outlined by regions provide grounds to say that the highest degree of disappointment with the Georgian Dream – and, accordingly, their greatest loss of support – was seen in Tbilisi, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Imereti and Guria. However, while this change translated into improved UNM results in Tbilisi, the situation was the opposite in the regions. In those areas the votes lost by the Georgian Dream were redistributed among Nino Burjanadze's party, the Patriots' Alliance and the Labor Party (in Mtskheta-Mtianeti).

Support for the Georgian Dream notably decreased (by more than 10 percentage points) in some districts of Poti, Batumi, Kobuleti, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Imereti and Racha-Lechkhumi. The highest result, 84%, was seen in Dedoplistskaro.

Irma Inashvili, the Patriots’ Alliance candidate for the position of Tbilisi Mayor.
In this regard, the home town of the prime minister's father-in-law has even outstripped Bidzina Ivanishvili's home town of Sachkhere, where the Georgian Dream received "a mere" 82% support. The lowest result, 36%, was seen in Gori where the key rival of the ruling coalition was Irakli Okruashvili's Georgian Party.

In two electoral districts – Tbilisi's Mtatsminda and Gori – the ruling coalition received significantly lower indicators than the national average (by more than 10%), and in 11 districts in various regions it received significantly higher indicators than the national average.

Outside Tbilisi, the UNM has not actually seen any notable increase in its results as compared to the presidential election. The highest result, 40%, was received in Zugdidi, whilst the lowest, 4.6%, in Mtskheta. The results of UNM in the majority of regions and districts did not differ much from those of the previous election. A sharp increase was only seen in Terjola (12%) and a sharp decrease only in Akhalkalaki and Martvili (12% and 13%, respectively).

In 15 electoral districts the UNM's results were 10% lower than the average national indicator, including in all three districts of Mtskheta-Mtianeti and in three districts of Samtskhe-Javakheti. It received higher than the average national indicator in 12 districts, including in Marneuli, three districts in Tbilisi, and three districts in Samegrelo.

The UNM still maintains a relatively high level of support in Samegrelo, but it failed to notably improve its support in other regions. However, it may be said that the results it obtained and the certain strengthening of its position, including qualifying for a runoff election in the capital city, is representative of a success for the UNM at this stage. At the very least, the government's declared wish to see the UNM disappear from the political "radar" is far from coming true.

As regards the other forces running in the local elections, Dimitri Lortkipanidze, running for the position of Tbilisi Mayor from the Nino Burjanadze-United Opposition Party, came in third place with 12.82% support. By party list, however, support for Burjanadze's party, both in Tbilisi and rest of Georgia, has remained uniform – its result insignificantly differs from that in the presidential election in 2013. The only exceptions are Ninotsminda, where Burjanadze lost a significant amount of the support that was mustered last year (down by 12%), and Lagodekhi, Bagdati and Martvili, where she strengthened her support by between 11-13%. Burjanadze's party received an especially high result (more than 10% of the average indicator) in 13 electoral districts, including in Lagodekhi, Tianeti, Tsalka and Bolnisi. Burjanadze's party outstripped the UNM in Mtskheta, Kazbegi, Borjomi and Oni, thus taking second place in the elections in those districts.

Nika Melia, the UNM candidate for the position of Tbilisi Mayor. Photo: Dimitri Chikvaidze
The Nino Burjanadze-United Opposition Party received 23,000 fewer votes than in last year's election.

In fourth place nationwide came the Patriots' Alliance led by Davit Tarkhan-Mouravi and Irma Inashvili. The latter, running for the post of Tbilisi Mayor, received more than 5% of votes, whilst the Alliance itself was voted for by 4.72% of voters nationwide and 6.34% in Tbilisi. In total, the Alliance received up to 67,000 votes.

The Patriots' Alliance received especially high results in Mtskheta-Mtianeti (Dusheti and Kazbegi), and in all three districts of Guria, Poti and Kobuleti. The Patriots' Alliance came in second place in Dusheti, Ozurgeti and Lanchkhuti, whilst in Kazbegi and Borjomi it received more votes than the UNM and took third place.

Irakli Okruashvili's Georgian Party showed a single real result in the city of Gori and the Gori district – 28% and 26%, respectively – and in both areas came second to the Georgian Dream.

Other opposition parties – Kakha Kukava's Non-Parliamentary Opposition, Salome Zourabichvili's Georgian Way and the Christian-Democratic Party – mustered real support and came in second place in a single district each, those of Akhalkalaki, Kareli and Lentekhi, respectively.

Georgian Dream candidates will be challenged by UNM candidates in runoff elections in Tbilisi, Rustavi, Batumi and Telavi, as well as in the Kvareli, Telavi, Terjola and Kobuleti districts.

Other rivals of the Georgian Dream in runoffs will be candidates from Nino Burjanadze's party in Akhmeta, Tianeti, Tkibuli and Martvili; candidates of the Patriots' Alliance in Poti and Ozurgeti as well as the Lanchkhuti and Khulo districts; Irakli Okruashvili's party in Gori and the Gori district; a candidate from the Green Party in Mtskheta; and a candidate from Salome Zourabichvili's party in Bagdati.

In fact, the 15 June local election was the first election since the 2008 parliamentary elections whose results were either partially or fully not recognized by all opposition parties. The Nino Burjanadze-United Opposition Party, as well as the Non-Parliamentary Opposition, Labor Party and Irma Inashvili of the Patriots' Alliance all declared non-confidence in the election immediately upon the announcement of the exit-poll results.

By party list, Nino Burjanadze-United Opposition, with its 10.22% of support, proved to be in third place after the Georgian Dream (50.52%) and UNM (22.41%). A new political force – the Patriots' Alliance – has emerged on the Georgian political arena, receiving 4.72% of the vote and occupying fourth place both nationwide and in Tbilisi.

The victory celebration in the Georgian Dream headquarters after the release of the exit-poll results by Imedi TV company.
In Tbilisi, the Georgian Dream candidate for the position of Tbilisi Mayor received 46.09% of votes, whilst the candidate from the UNM got 27.97%. Consequently, a runoff election was called in both the capital city as well as in seven other municipal cities. The Georgian Dream coalition also won most of the majoritarian mandates in almost every district.

The Georgian Dream started to celebrate its victory on 15 June upon the closure of the voter precincts. Prime Minister Garibashvili congratulated Davit Narmania with being elected Mayor of Tbilisi, who, according to the results of an exit-poll commissioned by Imedi TV and conducted by ACT, had received 51.2% of the vote.

"By today's victory our coalition has proved that it has no alternative. Regardless of the unprecedented level of fair competition, we gained victory fairly and decisively," declared Irakli Garibashvili.

Even though he failed to clear the 50% election hurdle according to the preliminary results, Davit Narmania ruled out the possibility of a runoff late in the evening of 15 June. Thereafter, however, the coalition had to admit the need for a runoff. As Garibashvili said, "the runoff is not a tragedy; quite the contrary, it is a unique means to strengthen democracy." He said that the 50% hurdle was established exactly because of an initiative of the new government.

On the evening of 15 June, the leader of the parliamentary majority, Davit Bakradze, expressed the UNM's position on the local elections. According to Bakradze, the results of the election proved that "the Georgian population said no to politics resting on conflict, undelivered promises and confrontation." According to him, the results of the election served as evidence that people need clear deeds performed, problems to be settled, and peace and order in the country. He said that the UNM will be able to offer this in the runoff election.

At the same time, the UNM underlined both the unfair pre-election environment and election day violations revealed in the process of voting.

The period preceding the local elections was marked by violence against UNM activists and leaders. The assault on UNM MP Nugzar Tsiklauri by masked assailants on 30 March has not yet been investigated. Another member of the UNM, Zurab Chiaberashvili, was also attacked. Georgian Dream activists repeatedly assaulted participants in the UNM's election campaign events, bombarding them with eggs or physically beating them.

The Nino Burjanadze-United Opposition Party received 23,000 fewer votes than in last year's election.

Government representatives used to formally condemn such attacks, but were also saying that they were a form of retaliation from the "people who had suffered" under the former government.

One of the main problems that emerged in the run up to the elections was the refusal of candidates nominated by the UNM and other opposition parties to continue in the race. The opposition explained that phenomenon by the pressure the government had placed on such candidates.

Law enforcement bodies detained the UNM candidates for the chief executive positions of the local self government bodies of the Khoni and Tsageri districts; the UNM majoritarian candidate running in Dusheti is also being kept in pretrial detention.

As the US National Democratic Institute (NDI) noted in its interim report on the pre-election political environment in Georgia, which was published on 10 June, over 30 candidates dropped out of the race due to alleged pressure from the police.

On 11 June, the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA) released its pre-election report, citing a number of instances of assaults on opponents, brawls and violence, obstructions in conducting election campaign events and the use of administrative resources. The GYLA's report described the conflict in Gardabani on 28 May; the rally staged by Georgian Dream activists outside the UNM office in Rustavi on 24 May; the confrontation in Tskaltubo on 12 May; the brawl in Zugdidi on 6 June; and the clash in Batumi on 7 June. It also noted the arrests of the local leader of the Non-Parliamentary Opposition in Kutaisi on 14 May, and Irakli Iremadze, a majoritarian candidate from the Georgian Way running for Batumi city council on 21 May.

A ransacked voter precinct.
On 11 June, the president of the European People's Party, Joseph Daul, expressed his concern about the pressure on opposition candidates. Describing such facts as "alarming," the EPP president called on the government to investigate the violence against UNM members. Unless this happens, he noted, Georgia's reputation in Europe will be seriously damaged.

The government, however, denied any pressure on opposition candidates. As Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili declared, out of 80 reported cases of pressure, 76 were not established at all. "The UNM had selected such candidates in advance who would later withdraw from the race and kick up a fuss as if they had come under pressure. This is a patent lie. In the event of revealing any such fact, the culprits will be held accountable."

As regards the assaults, pressure and intimidation of political opponents, the opinion of Tea Tsulukiani, the justice minister and chair of the Inter Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections, was that it was the result of the reality that "for the first time ever in the history of independent Georgia people are free in their expressions, people are free to voice their protest and are not afraid that they will be incarcerated for that, and, of course, people express the aggression which they accumulated over nine years."

Despite the incidents and violence, all in all, the election day passed calmly. There were, however, some confrontations in separate hotspots. A number of incidents of violence took place in the Zugdidi electoral district, where ballots were taken away, voter precincts were stormed and UNM leaders and members were attacked.

Events unfolded in a dramatic way in Marneuli, where the Georgian Dream declared that it was withdrawing Merab Topchishvili, its candidate for the position of chief executive of the local self government body, from the race – only making this announcement after the UNM candidate in Marneuli, whom the CEC had de-registered, had been reinstated by a court.

The UNM candidate for the position of chief executive of the local self government body in Marneuli, Akmamed Imamquliyev, declared that on the election day his rival from the Georgian Dream had been traveling around villages persuading voters that he had not dropped out of the race. Merab Topchishvili was seen several times outside the voter precinct, though he did not respond to questions as to whether or not he was running for the election.

After the precincts had shut down their booths, the situation was "clarified" by the head of the Georgian Dream election headquarters, who declared that the ruling coalition and its candidates had won in the district. As regards Merab Topchishvili, the head of the election headquarters said that he had "not heard anything from him" about him dropping out of the race. Consequently, he added, Merab Topchishvili had ran for the election and won.

Later, Prime Minister Irakli Garibshvili said that, according to the results, Marneuli was won by the Georgian Dream and its "withdrawn" candidate Merab Topchishvili.

Akmamed Imamquliyev, the UNM candidate for the position of chief executive of the Marneuli local self government.
However, the next day the UNM presented video evidence filmed by an election observer that featured violations in two voter precincts in Marneuli – namely, ballot box stuffing. The CEC thus abolished the results of these two precincts and called for a repeat election there.

Prime Minister Garibashvili, however, assessed these facts as a provocation from the UNM and an attempt to mislead society. Later, the interior ministry accused UNM activists of stuffing ballot boxes in favor of the Georgian Dream.
In a special statement, the UNM stated that "conspicuous vote rigging" had taken place in a significant number of electoral districts.

Yet another flagrant violation was the "revision" of precinct ballot counting protocols, which deprived the UNM of ballots cast in its favor. In particular, this happened in three voter precincts of Tbilisi, whereby the data published on the CEC's official website showed each of the UNM's results in these precincts to be short by 100 votes as compared to the photocopies of the corresponding precincts' ballot counting protocols.

The CEC's chair, Tamar Zhvania, explained that this was a result of "mechanical errors."

The UNM also declared that the government had applied the method of "carousel voting" in the election and that precinct electoral commissions in many cases deliberately spoilt the ballots of UNM supporters in order to then declare them void.

In the village of Koki in the Zugdidi district, an observer's video camera captured Davit Narmania's mother – who was a member of the precinct's electoral commission – instructing voters and checking voters' marked ballots. The district electoral commission issued her a warning. The Georgian Dream candidate for the position of Tbilisi Mayor himself explained his mother's actions merely as "motherly care" and claimed that there was no violation in that.

Merab Topchishvili, the Georgian Dream candidate for the position of chief executive of the Marneuli local self government.
On 15 June, the director of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Nino Lomjaria, said that, as compared to the 2010 local elections, the pre-election environment of the 2014 local elections was better in terms of the use of administrative resources and media freedom, but worse in terms of violence.

On 17 June, an observer mission of the International Republican Institute (IRI) expressed concern over statements opposition parties had made about both the pressure local officials had been placing on their candidates to withdraw from the race and the interference they experienced in some of their campaign events. "More concerning are incidents of electoral violence and the government's delayed response," the IRI statement read, calling on Georgian officials to investigate those facts in a timely manner in order to prevent them from happening in future elections.

"We believe that the strong performance by opposition parties and second round elections in several localities demonstrates the growing pluralism in Georgian democracy." This is how the Embassies of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands assessed the local elections in a joint statement released on 16 June. However, they expressed concern about a number of incidents in certain specific locations and called on the authorities to investigate these allegations ahead of the second round of voting.

As a result of its victory in the 15 June local elections, against the backdrop of accusations of pre-election pressure and electoral manipulation, the Georgian Dream will consolidate its power. This election, however, indicated a significant decrease in its popularity. However, as it turned out, the votes that the Georgian Dream lost went not to the "traditional" opponents of the government, but to marginal forces lacking positive political platforms. Yet another "novelty" in this election was that, under the setting of increased violence, the fairness of the election was questioned to a greater or lesser extent by every political subject, save for the ruling party, which was not the case in either the 2012 or 2013 elections.

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