International Observers Expected for Georgian Parliamentary Elections Despite Pandemic
Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani announced that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) will send 350 short-term and 28 long-term observers for the upcoming parliamentary elections. Because international travel restrictions are still in place, the Georgian government will arrange charter flights for the international observers. Other technicalities are still being finalized, but the Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, Archil Talakvadze, has already stated that observers will be tested for coronavirus but will not be subject to quarantine. The Central Election Commission is working with the Georgian Health Ministry to draft a safety protocol for the day of the election.
The October 31 elections are significant in that they represent a new method of distributing parliamentary seats, highlighting the need for facilitating travel for international observers. Of the 150 parliamentary positions, 120 seats will be assigned based on the number of votes received through proportional elections, and 30 seats will be allocated from the results of majoritarian elections. According to Hubert Knirsch, the German Ambassador to Georgia, this new election format will create an opportunity for small parties to achieve representation in parliament. Germany plans to send 37 international observers to monitor this new voting procedure that stems from recent constitutional changes. Knirsch also noted that all embassies in Tbilisi are monitoring the election campaigns and activities of the political parties.
Carl Hartzell, the European Union’s Ambassador to Georgia, also noted the importance of this election. Hartzellexpressed the belief that the new framework of this election will be positive for all participants, including new contenders. For the European Union, Hartzell stressed that it is more important how a party wins, rather than who wins. Candidates from small parties will benefit from a lower threshold for entry to parliament; the barrier is now one percent of votes, reduced from the previous three percent.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a notable segment of the observers from the United States will not be present. In a letter addressed to Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that the State Department will recruit U.S. volunteers for the ODIHR mission. Pompeo noted that the pandemic complicates the ability to organize a full-scale mission; as a result, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) will not provide short-term observers. As reported by Georgian media, the IRI and NDI will observe the elections in a virtual format with the support of local partner institutions. In his statement, Pompeo also commended the Georgian government for its efforts to facilitate safe travel for international observers and stated that the U.S. remains committed to helping Georgia implement reforms to strengthen its democratic processes.
In addition to those representing the ODIHR, IRI, and NDI, local Georgian organizations have already launched observation initiatives. The Georgian Young Lawyers Association and Georgia’s branch of Transparency International have put together monitoring activities, and the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy has issued several reports on their observation initiatives.