Interview | NDI Resident Director on October 31 Elections
The National Democratic Institute (NDI), a U.S-funded non-profit with a long history of watching elections in Georgia, released a report of the Virtual Elections Analysis Team on November 2, stating that “irregularities in results protocols, widespread reports of potentially intimidating behavior in or around polling stations, delays in the publication of results, and persistent perceptions of pre-election abuses of power detracted from notable improvements in the legal framework and administrative procedures for Georgia’s October 31, 2020, parliamentary elections.”
Civil.ge approached NDI Resident Director Alan Gillam to discuss the hotly-contested parliamentary election:
Mr. Gillam, what are the key tendencies that you have observed so far in this election process? And, what are the key findings of NDI VEAT’s observation that require particular attention from the authorities, the opposition, and the Georgian society at large?
The NDI statement certainly highlights irregularities in poll results, widespread reports of potentially intimidating behavior at polling stations, delayed publication of results, and persistent perceptions of pre-election abuses of power detracted from notable improvements in the legal framework and administrative procedures for Georgia’s parliamentary elections. As the country heads to runoff elections on November 21st, government leaders and election authorities should be willing to take significant steps to ensure confidence in the overall process and final results. In validating elections, it is important that the public have trust in the process. Extra efforts should be made by the election authorities to swiftly and effectively adjudicate some of the complaints and conduct recounts or reruns, where appropriate.
Do you think all of the irregularities you just named, taken together, could have affected the election outcome?
Until we know the outcome of any adjudication processes, it is too soon to say whether any parts of this election should be reconsidered. The next step will certainly be the runoff elections which must be conducted in a peaceful, transparent, and safe environment, free from violence and intimidation. The Government and election authorities should take urgent and sustained steps to demonstrate their commitment to respecting the will of the voters.
In your report, you wrote that the government and election authorities need to take some “extraordinary steps” to ensure public confidence in the overall process and the results. Could you elaborate on what these extraordinary steps should be, so that the trust in the outcome, and in the integrity of the overall process, is increased in the public?
At this point, all stakeholders should make efforts to de-escalate tensions and facilitate a peaceful environment. Yesterday we sent out 35 recommendations, but I would highlight that authorities should make extra efforts to swiftly and promptly adjudicate some of the complaints and conduct recounts or reruns where appropriate. They should also investigate allegations of violence or intimidation and as appropriate prosecute them to the full extent of the law; take all measures necessary to prevent any such efforts in the future. As for parties and candidates, they should make efforts to provide adequate evidence to substantiate claims of electoral violations, such as misuse of administrative resources, or pressure, intimidation, and follow all available procedures for seeking address.
The Georgian Dream claims its victory as the clear winner in this election, while all of the opposition parties – that passed the threshold, as well as those who came near to it – reject the results and refuse to enter the new parliament. Where does this leave Georgia? What is the way out?
It is part of our recommendations which we sent out yesterday: we call upon all stakeholders to de-escalate tensions and facilitate a peaceful environment. Party leaders and candidates should renew their campaign’s commitment to the code of conduct. To safeguard voters’ access to balanced and reliable information, political parties and candidates should participate in all available debates and political programs to present their policies and plans to the public. I think focusing on the runoff elections is extremely important and will be the next test for Georgia’s democratic journey.