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Georgian election news update

With less than two weeks until the upcoming Georgian parliamentary elections on October 31st, New Eastern Europe is watching the developments in Tbilisi closely. This election will be the first since the electoral structure was reformed from a majoritarian system to a predominantly proportional one. Georgia, like the rest of the world, is also facing the economic and public health difficulties that have accompanied the global pandemic. Make sure to follow Georgian Election News for regular updates. #GEElectionNEWS

October 21, 2020 - Mackenzie Baldinger - Articles and Commentary

Political ad for the Georgian Dream party, featuring party chairman and founder Bidzina Ivanishvili. Photo: Mackenzie Baldinger

This week in Georgia…

Azeri-Georgian border dispute becomes politically charged election topic

On October 7th, the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia announced that it had detained two members of the Border Demarcation Commission appointed to hold delimitation talks with Azerbaijan. These two employees, Iveri Melashvili and Natalia Ilychova, have been charged for allegedly withholding a 1937 map of the contested area, which prosecutors argue led to an unfavourable negotiating position for Georgia during the 2006 and 2007 border negotiations with Baku.

The detainment of these two employees and the resulting “Cartographer’s Case” quickly turned political when Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia and United National Movement (UNM) leader during the negotiations, condemned the investigation as a “long-planned provocation” against the main opposition party “to build an entire story on how we sold Georgian soil.” The Georgian Orthodox Church was swift in voicing its support for the investigation, given its vested interest in the historic David Garej Monastery that remains in a disputed area of the Georgian-Azeri border.

In addition to the UNM’s protests that the investigation is a political ploy, civil society and other opposition parties have expressed condemnation of the charges. They have accused the prosecutor of cooperating with David Khidasheli, a Georgian businessman with strong ties to Russia who has voiced pro-Kremlin sentiments in the past. In addition to concerns of Russian meddling, the opposition has also voiced concerns that the Georgian government launched an investigation regarding the Georgian-Azeri border only two days after the onset of fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. They claim this investigation could harm relations between Georgia and Azerbaijan at a time when the government is working hard to remain neutral in the neighbouring conflict.

Saakashvilli is met by supporters (and protests) in Greece

Former president and current UNM prime ministerial candidate, Mikheil Saakashvili, met with Georgian citizens living in Greece on October 11th. The event, held in Athens, was briefly interrupted when a crowd of supporters were dispersed by protesters. However, the disruption was unsurprising to Saakashvili, who announced the day before the event that the Georgian Dream (GD) party had been made aware of his upcoming appearance and had hired agitators.

He stated in an October 10th Facebook post that “Ivanishvili’s government heard about this meeting in advance and sent local Georgian criminals” to attack him. Despite these warnings, he asserted “I’ll go everywhere our people are no matter what type of ambush they set! This meeting will definitely be held.” According to opposition TV channel, Mtavari, multiple supporters were injured in the confrontation.

The polls show a solid lead for Georgian Dream

The most recent poll by IPSOS, released on October 19th, shows Georgian Dream with 26.2 per cent support, followed by the United National Movement at 17.8 per cent, and Strategy Agmashenebeli with 5.3 per cent. Alliance of Patriots, a right-wing nativist party with suspected ties to Russia, is polling at a surprisingly low 1.2 per cent. This has raised questions regarding the recent Kremlin-funding scandal and its impact on their chances of entering parliament.

The IPSOS poll also asked voters how they feel about the current “Cartographer’s Case.” 32 per cent of respondents answered that they see the case as a tool for the governing Georgian Dream to persecute opponents before the election.

Prime minister pulls out of debate with opposition leader Vashadze

In our last update, we reported on a debate scheduled on October 15th between the Georgian Dream Prime Minister, Giorgi Gakharia, and opposition candidate Giorgi Vashadze. However, the debate did not go forward when the prime minister took a note from American President Donald Trump and declared that he “unfortunately, did not have time for this.” Unlike Trump, he made sure to emphasise that political debates are an essential part of the election process and that he would “never run away from any meaningful discussion.” Despite his insistence that they are a fundamental part of the electoral process, no further debates have been scheduled.

Election observers release pre-election reports

In the run up to the election, international and local observers have already begun releasing preliminary reports and adapting their normal procedures to deal with COVID-19 complications. OSCE/ODIHR announced on October 9th that they will not be sending 350 short-term observers to Georgia due to health risks and travel complications.

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) released a bulletin on the election administration and campaign environment between the end of August and the first week of October. According to the report, all major parties have released policy platforms and signed the Central Election Commission’s Code of Conduct to respect the rule of law and pursue a “peaceful electoral environment.” The Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), a local legal watchdog, released its second interim report on October 12th, which focused on recent cases of voter intimidation, vote-buying, and political violence. Both the Georgian Dream party and the opposition have been accused of violations, including a violent confrontation between GD and UNM supporters in September that occurred in the south of the country.

Mackenzie Baldinger is a contributing editor with New Eastern Europe and a political researcher focusing on political extremism and populism in Central and Eastern Europe. She has a Master’s Degree in International Relations from Central European University and is currently completing an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree in European Politics at Leiden University.

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