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Presidential Election - 21 October 2018

The ruling Georgia Dream party won the local elections held on 21 October 2017 by a landslide. Led by ex-football star Kakha Kaladze, who is now the new mayor of Tbilisi, Georgian Dream candidates won most of the mayoral seats in the countrys six largest cities with an unequivocal 50% or more of the votes. Georgia's tightly contested election pitted opposition parties fronted by exiled former-President Mikhail Saakashvili against the ruling Georgia Dream party, chaired by billionaire former-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. In power since 2012, Georgia Dream's popularity has fallen due to economic stagnation and claims of perceived backsliding on democracy.

These elections followed a campaign largely devoid of meaningful competition. The playing field was uneven, with the ruling GD receiving approximately 90 percent of all campaign donations and enjoying the greatest media visibility, including coverage of government achievements and events. In contrast, opposition parties faced a lack of resources and significantly lower visibility and reach.

A sense of resignation pervaded their campaigns. Opposition parties and nonpartisan domestic observers describe the reasons for disparities as the pressure on potential opposition donors and the misuse of state administrative resources, while the ruling party maintains that they were simply better organized, more effective at fundraising, and had a more compelling vision. Regardless, such an imbalance, combined with a lack of extensive policy messages and debates in most of the country, hindered a real contest of ideas and values. The outcome was widely viewed as a foregone conclusion by many contestants and civil society organizations.

Georgia appeared to have reinforced governance marked by one partys dominance at all levels of elected office. This has characterized successive Georgian governments since independence and poses a challenge to democratic governance going forward. With the further consolidation of power in one party, prospects for vibrant and pluralistic democracy were at risk.

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and his restructured government survived a confidence vote in parliament. A total of 103 lawmakers supported the government in the 21 December 2017 vote, while 17 voted against. The confidence vote was needed due to amendments to the law on the governments structure that were adopted in November. The amendments cut the number of ministries from 18 to 14.

After the announcement that two new factions will be established within Georgian Dream's parliament majority, parliamentary chairman Irakli Kobakhidze rejected on 16 December 2017 as unfounded speculation that it reflected internal disagreements within the majority. Kobakhidze said discussions on establishing the new factions had begun prior to the end of the autumn parliament session, and that the objective was to improve internal management and coordination. At present the majority comprises five small factions of five-to-six people, several of which (the Industrialists, the Conservatives) represent parties that aligned with Georgian Dream to contest the 2012 parliamentary election, plus an 86-member Georgian Dream faction headed by Mamuka Mdinaradze, who described that numerical disparity as "not the best foundation for management."

The countrys democracy struggled with a weak checks and balances, doubts about judicial independence, and challenges in the media environment. Opposition parties of disparate ideologies have issued joint statements registering their concerns about these issues and the overall state of democratic governance. For its part, the government has acknowledged the need for further reform in several areas, but in carrying out its efforts to date has neglected to secure broad-based consensus.

Georgians voted in presidential elections on 28 October 2018, with two former foreign ministers as the frontrunners for the largely ceremonial office. The election was seen as a crucial test for the increasingly unpopular Georgian Dream party and will be the last in which the president is selected by popular vote. In the future, presidents will be picked by an electoral college of 300 legislators and regional officials.

French-born Salome Zurabishvili was projected to be elected with 52.3 percent of votes, according to the exit polls funded by the ruling Georgian Dream party that was backing her, with anti-corruption Grigol Vashadze of the main opposition party expected to secure only 28.1 percent. Her unsteady command of the Georgian language, which she speaks with an accent, was also frequently derided by her critics.

Seen as the main opponent to Zurabishvili, Vashadze is running on behalf of a recently-formed platform of 11 opposition parties led by Saakashvili. Like Zurabishvili, Vashadze, 60, also served as Georgia's foreign minister. His candidacy has been boosted by growing popular discontent over the government's failure to tackle poverty and during his campaign Vashadze has frequently condemned official corruption and alleged political meddling in the judiciary. He has also criticised the "informal oligarch rule" of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire leader of the Georgian Dream party and the country's richest man, who stepped down as president in 2013 after just a year in office but who is widely believed to rule the country from behind the scenes.

Over 3.5 million citizens were registered to vote. Authorities made commendable efforts to improve the accuracy of voter lists and provide voters with ample opportunity to verify their information. Most stakeholders expressed confidence in the accuracy of the voter lists.

Candidate registration was transparent and inclusive, despite overly restrictive and disproportionate residency requirements. In total, 25 candidates were registered, 16 from political parties and 9 independent. However, the genuineness of the nomination process was diminished by credible indications that databases of voter data were available for purchase and by the absence of an effective mechanism for checking the authenticity of support signatures. The campaign strongly indicated that a significant number of candidates registered to use their of public funding and free airtime in the first round to support other contestants.

The election was competitive and professionally administered. Candidates were able to campaign freely and voters had a genuine choice, although there were instances of misuse of administrative resources, and senior state officials from the ruling party were involved in the campaign. Substantial imbalance in donations and excessively high spending limits further contributed to an unlevel playing field. While public broadcasters provided all candidates a platform to present their views, the sharp polarization of the private media, negative campaigning and harsh rhetoric, and lack of analytical reporting limited voters ability to make a fully informed choice. Legal changes that increased the representation of the ruling party at all election administration levels and the insufficient transparency in the selection of non-partisan members undermined the perception of impartiality. Nevertheless, election day generally proceeded in a professional, orderly and transparent manner, despite some procedural issues during counting, as well as many citizen observers and media acting on behalf of political parties and party supporters potentially influencing voters outside polling stations.

Fifty percent plus one vote is needed to win the first round. The speaker of the parliament from the ruling party, Irakli Kobakhidze, said at a news conference that the results from 1,000 polling stations suggested that there would be a second round. Should the vote go to a runoff, a second round would be held before December 1.

As no candidate was elected in the first round, a second round was set for Wednesday, 28 November. The run-off election day proceeded in an orderly manner despite a tense environment and a few violent incidents that were investigated by law enforcement. The second round concluded was competitive and candidates were able to campaign freely, however one side enjoyed an undue advantage and the negative character of the campaign on both sides undermined the process. Elections were well administered; yet, the lack of regulation of key aspects of the second round did not provide legal certainty. The campaign was marred by harsh rhetoric. Increased misuse of administrative resources further blurred the line between party and state. Private media continued to demonstrate sharp polarization and clear bias, while the public broadcaster did not ensure editorial independence and impartiality. On election day, voters actively took part and the process was assessed positively, although the observed tracking of voters reinforced concerns about potential intimidation.

Voters in Georgia went to the polls in a presidential election runoff on 28 November that pitted a candidate backed by the ruling party who favors balancing ties with Moscow and the West against a rival who advocates a stronger pro-Western line.

  • Grigol Vashadze is a former foreign minister and the candidate for Georgias main opposition, the United National Movement (UNM). The party was founded by ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, who was sentenced in absentia for abuse of power earlier this year.
  • Salome Zurabishvili is also a former Georgian foreign minister and an independent candidate, but endorsed by the ruling Georgian Dream party, founded by billionaire former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Salome Zurabishvili won they's run-off vote for Georgia's presidency with 59.6 percent of the ballot, according to the Central Election Commission. Turnout was 56.23 percent. The first woman to be elected to the role was backed by the ruling Georgian Dream party, founded by billionaire banker Bidzina Ivanishvili, the country's richest man. Zurabishvili was expected to try and balance pro-Western aspirations while avoiding antagonizing Moscow. The French-born Zurabishvili had been a diplomat before serving as Georgia's foreign minister in 2004-2005 before being fired from the job. The 66-year-old had alienated some senior diplomats who accused her of arrogance.

Opposition candidate Grigol Vashadze took 40.4 percent, after results from almost all the polling stations had been tallied. He immediately claimed "mass electoral fraud" in a statement to the pro-opposition Rustavi-2 broadcaster.

Throughout the election, insufficient issue-oriented debate, shallow coverage of the campaign and the lack of analytical reporting by sharply polarized media limited the possibility for voters to make a fully informed choice. While the law provides free airtime only for certain party-nominated candidates, both public national broadcasters provided all candidates with the same amount of free airtime, and for the run-off most national broadcasters provided free airtime to both candidates. The media regulator did not always display a transparent and impartial approach when intervening in the campaign.

The vote was considered a prelude to the decisive standoff between the ruling and opposition parties in parliamentary polls scheduled for 2020.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2020 13:36:06 ZULU