Kato Kotolashvili, Blog-post from Gori
I have been observing elections for the past ten years. Much has changed during these years but last two elections were outstanding; I recall similarities and differences. I will start from the beginning.
I monitored October 27, 2013 Presidential Elections as Human Rights Center’s observer. I decided to visit several precincts in Gori DEC # 32; also I had to coordinate five more observers on the ground. We delivered five observers to their precincts before 7:00 am and then went to observe lot procedures in the Precinct # 17. I observed three elections at that particular precinct and it has always been problematic; so I decided it would be interesting this time too. The precinct is located in the school building, where I spent 11 years of my life and have particular attachment to it. In short, the commission members carried out necessary procedures according to the rules. Since I had decided to stay in the precinct for a short time, I took a photo of the first voter, who arrived at the PS at exactly 8:00 am, uploaded it on Facebook and then started to inquiry about the observing organizations. Based on my last year experience, I thought I would find some strange organizations again and my expectations came true.
“Green Earth”, “International Observatory of Lawyers and Advocates,” “Free Choice”, “Institute of Refugee and Minority Problems,” etc. Last year, I discovered three newly established nongovernmental organizations but this year they were more creative – their number was considerable and were deployed in many settlements. Similar organizations mostly were represented by the Georgian Dream’s supporters, public servants, employees of the organizations subordinated to local municipal boards, members of the GD’s youth branch. Some of their representatives did not hide that they represented Georgian Dream when we inquired whether they represented NGO or not, they directly replied: “I am from Georgian Dream,” “I represent Nino Burjanadze,” etc. In short, the observers of the afore-listed organizations openly or secretly demonstrated their real political affiliations.
The law does not prohibit them to act so but it is a pity that GD acts the same way as United National Movement did.
In accordance to the law, one election subject shall have one representative in one precinct. However, political parties found a solution of the problem and registered NGOs to send their representatives there as NGO members.
This year, again, there were two sorts of observers: one part was very active who moved about and controlled the situation; and second - who looked very bored and sat in the corner and rarely moved about; nobody felt their presence in the precincts.
From Precinct # 17 I went to Precinct # 85 – Stalin personally observed the ongoing polling process in the building of Sukhishvili University. Next to the portraits of Davit Agmashenebli, Iakob Gogebashvili and Ilia Chavchavadze, there was a portrait of Stalin in the foyer of the University. I took a photo of it and Commission Members proudly declared – our rector adores Stalin and supports the idea to return his monument to the town. When I asked for the log book, to see how correctly the procedures were done, the secretary said “Do not you see who is observing our work, how could we breach the rules?!” Indeed everything was in order and I wished success to the Stalinist Commission and went to the DEC office. Like I already mentioned, the DEC members calmly waited for the end of the Election Day.
Then, as a member of the mobile group, I started visiting different precincts; I visited about 20 precincts all day long both in Gori town and in the villages; I also went to the village close the ABL. I talked with observers, commission members, observed the environment, checked log books, etc. I encountered equal facts in every place – commission members were not fully aware of procedures, a lot of people were standing in the vicinities of the precincts, we observed some cases of agitation too. People with lists still stood near the precincts and controlled who was coming and who was not. One of my acquaintances did not hide that he and his group members were coordinators of the Georgian Dream and were ordered to agitate in favor of the ruling party. I recognized one woman among them, who was distributing agitation materials of the UNM during last year parliamentary elections.
After the polling procedures finished, I returned to my native public school and Precinct # 17 – less than 500 people had voted out of registered 1 444 people in the precinct. Nobody expected such a low activity; though I did. To tell the truth I did not expect such a peaceful election environment. I could not believe that election procedures were conducted so smoothly and legally.
All procedures from closing the ballot box till its opening were implemented in compliance to the Election Code. Commission members were very tolerant to every suggestions or remarks we made. They counted the votes in accordance to the law. PEC # 17 members counted votes from the special precinct too. They had not finished counting process, when one of our observers called me from Mereti village precinct and notified that they had already finished everything and asked to pick him up. On our way to Mereti, regardless the fact that only several PECs had counted their votes, we met a column of cars with Georgian Dream’s flags – they were already celebrating the victory of Giorgi Margvelashvili. On our way back we picked up observers from Tkviavi, Karaleti and Karaleti IDP Settlement. All of them spoke about peaceful Election Day and minor violations.
Unlike previous years, DEC had received final protocols from all PECs by 3:00 am while I sometimes had to leave precincts only next morning.
I do hope, time of fraud elections will never return in our country and CEC will be very careful about the shortcomings discovered during October 27 elections and we will take another more solid and stubborn step towards democracy with 2014 Local Self-Government Elections.