2020 parliamentary elections in Georgia have concluded with the Central Election Commission (CEC) attributing 48% of all the proportional votes to the ruling Georgian Dream party (GD), followed by the biggest opposition alliance led by the United National Movement (UNM) with 27% of support. This percentage of votes received by Bidzina Ivanishvili’s GD will allow the party to govern for an unprecedented third term. However, with the results being contested by the opposition, calling the vote numbers and the election outcome manipulated, the actual political process is set to continue outside the parliament building — all of the opposition parties passing the 1% threshold have refused to recognize the election results as valid and stated they will not join the new legislature. Additionally, the opposition is unequivocal in calling for the rerun of the elections and it plans to hold mass rallies until the demands are met.
After publishing the official preliminary election results by the CEC, local independent election watchdog ISFED presented its final assessment of the voting process observations and the PVT (parallel vote tabulation) results. ISFED report talks about the violations in the CEC work and the possible manipulation: “there was a tendency of mismatches in the summary protocols when the number of ballot papers cast exceeded the number of signatures in voters lists, which represents a violation. Additionally, at certain polling stations, the mismatch was significantly higher than individual cases. Such violations were reported at 8% of polling stations. A tendency of this scale has not been documented in the past years, and hence, this requires particular attention...The PVT analysis shows that its maximum impact on election results would be less than 4.1%.” Additionally, the PVT results from the ISFED differed from the preliminary election results published by the CEC. While the CEC attributed 48.17% of the votes to the GD, ISFED set this number at 45.8% (with a margin of error of 0.7%).
According to the OSCE/ODIHR’s initial assessment made on November 1: “The 31 October parliamentary elections were competitive and, overall, fundamental freedoms were respected. Nevertheless, pervasive allegations of pressure on voters and blurring of the line between the ruling party and the state reduced public confidence in some aspects of the process.” Furthermore, the US Embassy in Georgia shared the OSCE assessment and declared in a statement, that “efforts to corrupt the electoral process through voter intimidation, vote-buying, interfering with ballot secrecy, blurring of party and official activities, and violence against election observers and journalists, while not sufficient to invalidate the results, continue to mar Georgia’s electoral process and are unacceptable.” Likewise, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) made a statement on November 2, saying “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.”
Soon after the CEC published the Precinct Election Commission (PEC) summary protocols, social networks were flooded with the photos illustrating huge imbalances between the number of people present at the polling stations and the ballot papers cast. Several politicians stated that the summary protocols do not reflect the votes received by them, some of which claimed there were fewer votes in their favor from the polling stations where their own family members voted. As reported by ISFED, after reviewing the data from just a single polling station (#97), even though 47 people voted for the majoritarian candidate Pikria Chikhradze, the summary protocol indicated the number of votes received by the candidate was zero. More than that, while 26 people voted for “Aleko Elisashvili - Citizens” party, 32 for “Girchi,” 26 for “Lelo - Mamuka Khazaradze,” and 39 for “Giorgi Vashadze - Strategy Aghmashenebeli,” the summary protocol from this polling station has attributed to the parties just 4, 2, 6, and 9 votes respectively.
In an October 3 statement made by another key election watchdog the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), the organization called for the annulment and recount of summary protocols in 117 election precincts due to the imbalances between the number of ballots and the number of signatures in the voters’ lists. According to the data from the opposition “European Georgia” party, out of the proportional summary protocols from a total of 3847 precincts, the imbalances were identified in 1175 (30.55%) of them, while the imbalances in majoritarian summary protocols were found in 2007 (52.17%) precincts.
On October 4, major Georgian NGOs published a joint assessment of the 2020 parliamentary elections, declaring “the Georgian government has failed to ensure the elections adhere to democratic standards,” with the pre-election period being “characterized by an unprecedented use of administrative resources by the ruling party.” Also, according to the assessment, “the ruling party did not shy away from manipulating the patriotic feelings of the citizens and, presumably for this purpose, launched the so-called ‘Cartographers Case,’ which led to the arrest of two, most likely innocent, people.” The NGOs noted that “there was also a problem of the Central Commission’s delay in announcing the primary election results, about seven hours after polling stations closed, which should be seen as a deterioration in established practice over the past eight years.” The organizations underscored that “the 2020 parliamentary elections were the least democratic and free among the elections held under the Georgian Dream government,” and that the elections marked by “a low degree of democracy, would be detrimental to the stable development of our country and its international reputation.”
A mass protest demanding the fresh parliamentary elections, the resignation of CEC’s Tamar Zhvania, and releasing the political prisoners were held on November 8. The opposition had given time to the ruling party until 8 PM, however after the government denied stepping back, thousands of Georgians gathered in front of the parliament building to peacefully protest what they believed was a rigged election, rallied towards the CEC building to continue their protest, marching about 10 km from the Rustaveli Ave. Once initially a relatively small number of people reached the CEC building, heavily guarded by the police and special forces, the riot police deployed water cannons. The human rights watchdogs and the public defender Nino Lomjaria have called this action being against the law, as the police have used the force without a prior loud warning. According to Lomjaria even after issuing a warning, “as long as the rally remains within the law”, the police are not allowed to use force. Several hours later, at 1 AM the police again deployed the water cannons, this time for about 10 minutes. The reports included the police using tear gas too, which was later denied by the Interior Ministry. As a result of the violent dispersal, protesters as well as several journalists working at the scene were injured. Considering the increased number of Covid-19 infection cases and the harsh climate conditions, the use of water cannons seemed to be unnecessary and unproportional. Shortly after the use of water cannons after midnight, making a large proportion of protesters susceptible to catching a cold and sustaining injuries, the opposition parties have decided to continue the protests the next day at 6 PM. It should be noted that on November 7 the government reintroduced Covid related curfew, restricting citizens in 7 major Georgian cities to be outside from 10 PM to 5 AM.