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Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections conducted by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

In January the president signed into law parliament’s 2015 amendments to the electoral code that redrew electoral district boundaries for majoritarian mandates. Large differences in the sizes of electorates in single-mandate constituencies prior to passage of the amendments had been identified as undermining equality of the vote by OSCE/ODIHR and the Constitutional Court. In March the Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR experts stated the amendments were an important step toward achieving equal suffrage but criticized the lack of a clear methodology for establishing constituencies. They also expressed concern that the drafting process lacked transparency, impartiality, and broad engagement. In June the UNM filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court that election district boundaries were gerrymandered. In July the court ruled the evidence did not show abuse of electoral geography. Following the October parliamentary elections, the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission reported that, despite the technical amendments adopted in June, some large deviations from the average number of voters still remained in the single-mandate constituencies.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held two rounds of parliamentary elections on October 8 and October 30. The OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission’s preliminary report termed them “competitive and administered in a manner that respected the rights of candidates and voters,” but it stated the open campaign atmosphere was affected by “allegations of unlawful campaigning and some incidents of violence.” According to the OSCE/ODIHR’s statement on the October 30 second round, between the first and second rounds, election commissions and courts often did not respect the principle of transparency and the right to effective redress, which weakened confidence in the election administration. OSCE/ODIHR also reported several parties alleged there was political pressure and intimidation on candidates and campaign staff throughout the election process and noted numerous allegations of the misuse of administrative resources. According to OSCE/ODIHR, election observers reported that 31 percent of the vote counts they observed were bad or very bad, while unauthorized individuals participated in the vote count in half of the observations.

While unrest was not widespread, violent incidents were reported throughout the electoral process. In the pre- and postelection period, the Prosecutor’s Office reportedly investigated 38 beatings related to the October elections. On election day, for the first round, there were four incidents of violence toward the end of voting and during the vote count in Marneuli, Kutaisi, and Zugdidi. In two precincts in Zugdidi and one in Marneuli, the counting process was disrupted or terminated by outside activists who stormed polling stations, damaged ballot boxes and private property, and assaulted international observers. Reruns were necessary in both Zugdidi precincts and the precinct in Marneuli but not in Kutaisi. The UNM and local NGOs in separate statements expressed concern that police raids on the homes of individuals suspected of raiding the polling station in Marneuli during the first round of the elections was an attempt to intimidate supporters from voting in the second round. On runoff day fighting broke out in Gori between UNM and ruling party Georgian Dream (GD) supporters, resulting in severe injuries to a UNM supporter. In addition, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) reported that one precinct election commission (PEC) official allegedly physically assaulted a UNM observer in Marneuli.

Other incidents of violence during the election period included the bombing of the car of a UNM member of parliament in Tbilisi four days before the first election round, an assault on international election observers, a shooting incident at an independent candidate’s campaign event, and two assaults days before the second election round (see Political Parties and Political Participation).

Election observers including the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), which conducted parallel vote tabulation that was consistent with official results, expressed concerns about the qualifications, neutrality, and competence of some polling station commissioners. Several NGOs and opposition parties complained the selection process for precinct electoral officials lacked transparency. NDI and other election observers reported numerous procedural problems at PECs–particularly related to the counting and completion of summary protocols–as well as other violations, including duplicate voting, vote buying, voter invitation cards included with cast ballots, and allegations of ballot box stuffing. GYLA questioned the impartiality and consistency of official adjudications of electoral disputes, calling some court rulings “vague and contradictory.”

NGOs and opposition parties reported politically motivated intimidation throughout the electoral process. ISFED reported 28 cases of intimidation in the pre-election period, while Transparency International identified 10 cases between the first and second rounds. The UNM reported more than 50 cases overall.

In its final statement, the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission characterized the 2013 presidential election as efficiently administered and transparent and considered that the legal framework provided a sound basis for the conduct of democratic elections. Shortcomings included allegations of political pressure during the campaign, including on UNM representatives in local government; unclear and unevenly applied election code provisions; and insufficient campaign finance monitoring.

Political Parties and Political Participation: On May 22, multiple leading UNM politicians and activists were beaten at a polling station in Kortskheli, a village in the Zugdidi municipality, during a by-election for a seat in the local council. Local media filmed part of the altercation. NGO election observers reported that the small number of police officers present failed to prevent a fistfight from breaking out and that additional police forces arrived later. The president and prime minister condemned the violence, while NGOs and the public defender criticized police for failing to perform their duty and raised concern that authorities’ delay in identifying and prosecuting the GD-affiliated attackers amounted to selective justice. UNM leaders accused the head of GD’s election headquarters of organizing the assault, while the GD contended that UNM provoked GD supporters. On June 1, the Ministry of Internal Affairs filed criminal charges against six men involved in the incident. On December 7, the case went to trial.

OSCE/ODIHR observers to the October elections reported candidates were able to campaign freely but that several parties alleged that local authorities, police, and the State Security Service placed political pressure on candidates and campaign staff. NDI observed that while the campaign environment was more competitive than in the 2012 parliamentary elections, the number of political parties represented in the newly elected parliament narrowed to three.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did participate.

There were three ethnic Armenians and four ethnic Azeris in parliament but no minority members in the cabinet, Supreme Court, or Constitutional Court. Higher-level city managers included ethnic minority leaders. Central offices of the major political parties did not include members of ethnic minorities, but they participated in party activities at the regional and local level and in pre-election campaigning in ethnic minority communities.

De facto authorities in Abkhazia reportedly forced ethnic Georgians to give up their citizenship to vote or participate in de facto elections. Ethnic Georgians willing to apply for Abkhaz “passports” generally did not receive them in time to participate in elections due to extensive delays or had them annulled in 2014. Ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia were also reportedly required to accept a South Ossetian “passport” and “citizenship” to participate in political life.

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