The messenger logo

As election nears, political polarization increases

By Salome Modebadze
Tuesday, September 4
The rhetoric that characterizes each party as “a fundamental threat to either a sovereign or democratic Georgia” has increased the level of polarization between the ruling United National Movement (UNM) and the Georgian Dream coalition, explained National Democratic Institute (NDI) Country Director in Georgia, Luis Navarro on September 3.

According to the NDI report the “false perceptions” the both parties create, undermine public confidence in the elections. “The government has an obligation to enact fair electoral laws and to enforce them impartially. The opposition has the obligation to adhere to the law,” reads the report, emphasizing that “to gain political advantage” both sides seem to avoid these responsibilities.

In the Long-Term Election Observation Interim Report covering the 2012 Parliamentary Elections in Georgia, three analysts focused on election administration and the political environment during August 3-27, 2012 and visited 24 districts and conducted more than 120 meetings with government, election officials, and representatives of political parties, civil society and the media, to ensure “accurately and impartially various aspects of the election process.”

NDI believe that rumors and unfounded allegations appear to be used as campaign tools to undermine candidates, parties and the electoral process. As the “sporadic incidents of violence” continue against the Georgian Dream, NDI found the two largest electoral subjects acting like enemies, not political opponents.

As election campaigns are ramping up, NDI said the smaller political parties criticize the disparity between their resources and those of the two main opponents, arguing that this has created a narrow space for their organizational and campaign efforts.

According to the opposition parties, the citizens often lose social benefits or pensions, face harassment or receive penalties if they openly support the opposition. They also talked about the misuse of state resources, government interference and intimidation with the NDI team, but the report emphasized that the interlocutors do not have a clear understanding of the differences between the violations of the law and legitimate government spending.

“Although there are numerous allegations of the misuse of government resources to conduct campaign activities, opposition parties are also critical of the government’s investments in infrastructure and social programs during the past year. They describe the new roads, bridges, developments and increases to the pension program as a misuse of administrative resources and criticize these programs as part of the government’s efforts to “buy votes.”

Although such claims need to be verified, NDI said the opposition parties and civil organizations allege the local authorities, village trustees and the police of pressuring the voters– especially in smaller, rural communities and regions with ethnic minorities.

“There seems to be a lack of understanding regarding the clear divisions between the state and the ruling party,” the report reads, emphasizing the great “authority or capacity” of the State Audit Office (SAO) in its oversight of political party financing. Despite the parallels made between the violations of campaign finance law by the Georgian Dream and the misuse of administrative resources in favor of the UNM, the law appears to be selective and the penalties disproportionate. By freezing the personal accounts of Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili and Kakha Kaladze, the SAO based its conclusions on “grounded suspicion” rather than how the funds were spent.

NDI will continue to observe and analyze the electoral process and offer independent, impartial observations and findings and will deploy over 20 short-term observers to assess the election-day proceedings according to international standards.

Davit Darchiashvili, Chairman of Parliamentary Committee on European Integration from the ruling party, did not find NDI’s criticism absolutely fair but still found the entire tone and process of finding specific examples adequate. Darchiashvili told The Messenger that he supports the SAO position that applies higher standards to the millionaires compared with general businessmen.

Another ruling party MP Akaki Minashvili said that the majority of accusations of the oppositionists [against the government] are groundless. He said the only party trying to discredit the election process is the Georgian Dream, which according to Minashvili, wants to create a mess immediately after Election Day.

Eliso Chapidze, the Georgian Dream’s majoritarian candidate in Tkibuli, in the Imereti region, wondered how Minashvili could foresee the coalition’s steps and believes that by making such comments the ruling party is scared of the upcoming parliamentary elections. She told The Messenger that the Georgian Dream keeps calm despite the state's oppressive behavior and stressed that the coalition will definitely protect its votes, but only within the legal framework of the law. Welcoming organizations like NDI which prevent violations in the country, Chapidze said that NDI has reminded the government of their responsibility to ensure peace and order.