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NDI releases assessment of electoral preparations ahead June 15 local elections

By Ana Robakidze
Monday, May 5
“Georgia continues to benefit from the fundamentals of democracy. However, there are concerns that could jeopardize those achievements if not addressed,” said the statement of an international delegation organized by the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

The statement gives an overall positive assessment to the political environment, and says voters felt confidence in the results of the 2012 parliamentary and 2013 presidential elections, which led to peaceful transfers of power.

However, the delegation is concerned over the polarization in politics and recommends improving the local electoral and local self-governance codes, promoting women as mayoral, gamgebeli and sakrebulo candidates, deterring violence and intimidation, avoiding politically-selective prosecutions and interrogations, respecting minority rights and reinforcing the professionalism of the local civil service.

The delegation believes that carrying out additional changes in the political and election environment would enhance public confidence in the fairness and integrity of these and future elections.

“The further development of democratic practices still offers the best chance for international integration and for long-term economic prosperity and stability. Local elections provide an important opportunity to deepen, expand and institutionalize the democratic processes in the country.”

The delegation praised the changes made in the local self-governance legislation – specially, the transition of mayors and gamgebelis (heads of municipalities) from indirect to direct elections and setting the threshold at 50%. Making state funding to parties more accessible is also welcomed in the statement. Though, there still are some concerns over the part of the self-government law, which sets no criteria for impeachment, whilst allows Sakrebulos to vote out directly elected mayors and gamgebelis through a two-thirds majority vote.

The statement also reads that media freedom should be ensured. The recommendations say that “allegations of intimidation or harassment of journalists or interference with their rights should be fully and expeditiously investigated and violations should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Also, the Georgian Public Broadcaster should strive to maintain balanced coverage of the elections, particularly as it undergoes a change in management and programming.”

The delegation’s major goal was to accurately and impartially study the political environment, assess electoral preparations in advance of the June 15 local elections, and examine factors that could affect the integrity of the electoral process. The delegation also offered a number of recommendations for a better election environment.

The delegation included Per Eklund, former ambassador and former head of the European Union Delegation to Georgia, Sam Gejdenson, former ranking member of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee and a member of the NDI Board; Robert Adams, international elections and democratization expert for Electoral Reform International Services (ERIS) and Democracy Reporting International (DRI), Laura Jewett, NDI regional director for Eurasia, and Luis Navarro, NDI senior resident country director in Georgia.

On May 5, NDI will brief the media on the results of its April 2014 survey regarding Public Attitudes in Georgia. The fieldwork was conducted during the period of March 26 through April 18 using the face-to-face interview method with a nationwide representative sample of 3, 942 completed interviews.