“Well-administered, free and smooth” - int’l observers assess election run-offs in Georgia

Agenda.ge, 13 Nov 2017 - 16:33, Tbilisi,Georgia

Sunday’s municipal election run-offs were well administered, candidates were able to compete freely and fundamental rights were generally respected, say international observers.

Election observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) presented their preliminary assessment of the second round of the Georgian elections this afternoon.

They said that although the elections were well-run in all six municipalities, shortcomings in the process highlighted the need for improvements to the laws governing elections.

"The election administration at all levels handled the preparations in a generally professional and timely manner, including in ensuring the full membership of lower commissions and by providing additional training”, said Corien Jonker, head of the ODIHR election observation mission.
"The absence of certain regulations specifically related to the second round, the late start of campaigning in the media, and the prohibition against candidates withdrawing ahead of second-round voting all show the need for further reform of the legal framework”, she added.

The observation mission said that the legal framework generally provides an adequate basis for the democratic conduct of elections, but leaves aspects of the second round under-regulated or ambiguous. Run-offs are held between the two candidates with the most first-round votes, although the opposition United National Movement announced it would not take part in the second round. As the Election Code does not permit second-round candidates to withdraw, this essentially left two of the six races uncontested, the observers said.

They also stressed that freedom of expression was respected in the media during the second-round campaign. Instructions to broadcasters from the media regulator meant they could only begin allocating free airtime and offering paid advertisements on November 2, limiting the opportunity for contestants to campaign through the media. Some local outlets provided regular coverage, but the run-offs were largely ignored in the national media, with the ruling Georgian Dream party dominating political news broadcasts, said the preliminary assessment.

"A predominant political position brings with it a responsibility to ensure that reforms to address the shortcomings identified are carried out in a consultative process, involving all electoral stakeholders, and that they ensure a level playing field for all wishing to compete as candidates”, Jonker said.

ODIHR said that about 1,000 complaints filed after the first round with the central and district election commissions were reviewed in an open and collegial manner, respecting due process guarantees and legal deadlines. However, many were dismissed on procedural or formalistic grounds, and this undermined candidates’ and voters’ rights to effective remedy and public confidence in the dispute resolution process, the office believed.

Unlike the first round, the misuse of state resources was not raised as a major concern in the run-offs, although instances of possible pressure and intimidation raised concern, said the observers. Election day proceeded in a smooth and professional manner, with voting, counting and tabulation assessed positively by observers.

The observers welcomed that the voter lists were updated to delete deceased voters and enter those who turned 18 years of age between rounds. They also recognised that in an inclusive manner, the Central Election Commission extended the validity of existing observer accreditations and provided the opportunity for additional accreditations.

The run-off elections were held as in six election districts none of the candidates could receive more than 50 percent of mandatory votes in the October 21 municipal elections.