OSCE Election Observation Mission in Georgia – report from an International Observer

fot. C. Szczepaniuk

fot. C. Szczepaniuk

On October 27, 2013 presidential election took place in Georgia. The country faced the challenge of electing a new president, after a year of political cohabitation. 41 candidates were listed on the Voting Lists, but just three out of them were serious competitors – Giorgi Margvelashvili, David Bakradze and Nino Burjanadze. The Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (ODIHR OSCE) organizes Election Observation Missions (EOM) to strengthen democracy, human rights and the rule of law across the world. Such Election Observation Mission was organized for the 12thtime in Georgia. Being one of OSCE member states, Georgia is obliged by the Copenhagen commitments to organize fair elections and to allow the presence of international observers. For this mission OSCE employed temporarily 16 experts, 18 Long Term Observers (LTO) and 300 Short Term Observers (STO). I had the pleasure to be among them.

On behalf of Poland, the EOM was organized by Solidarity Fund with cooperation of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland. The day before departure, 10 appointed short term observers from Poland met in the Foundation’s premises for a briefing given by Wojciech Górecki – an expert from a Polish think tank The Center for Eastern Studies and an author of books and reportages from Caucasus. After a short introduction into the political situation of Georgia and a short briefing on financial affairs, our journey began. On Wednesday morning we arrived in Tbilisi, heading to the Georgia ExpoCenter to attend a conference.

During first two days in the capital, the whole OSCE delegation to Georgia – LTOs and STOs from all over the world – participated in the introduction to the mission goals, political situation in Georgia, presentation of main candidates and the order of elections. We were also accustomed with the code of conduct of georgiaan International Observer. Each STO composed a team with another STO, in my case I was working with Jennifer from the US. On Friday, October 25 we departed to our deployment areas – Jennifer and I left for Samtredia that is located in Guria, Western Georgia, for a briefing with the local team. Over there, around eight teams which were deployed in Guria area had further meetings and an introduction to local situation. After lunch, each team left to their final destination – in our case a small town in Guria – Ozurgeti. Each team have had appointed a local interpreter and a driver. We spent Saturday driving around the region visiting various villages and Polling Stations, interviewing the local commission and observing preparations for elections. That day we had luck to be amused with Georgian world-famous hospitality – unexpectedly, our driver invited us for a traditional Georgian wedding…

Sunday October 27, 2013 was the Election Day. It started for us at 6 a.m. and finished at 4 a.m., on Monday. During the day we visited around 13 Polling Stations. We were watching, writing reports, talking to chairperson of the local commission and taking notes. During the ‘E-Day’ we followed the ‘mobile box’ as well.[1] With the ‘mobile box’ team we visited around eight houses, where people that wished to vote had registered a few days before. We observed the procedures of opening the Polling Station, voting process, and closing of the Station. At the end of the day we followed our last PS until the District Election Committee in order to assist handing in the envelopes with votes. Our job that day was also to stay until the closure of the DEC, observing tabulation, concluding and summation of all 62 Precinct Election Committees in the DEC. Having rested on the day after election, all STO teams arrived on Tuesday, October 29 to Tbilisi to the congress center in order to conclude and summarize elections with the Georgian OSCE core-team.

The preliminary statement of the International Observation Mission in Georgia concludes that the elections were efficiently administrated, transparent and took place in a peaceful atmosphere. I can just confirm, as an international observer, that this statement is correct. Members of all Commissions of Polling Stations we visited showed professionalism, good sense of organization and huge hospitality towards us. Few times we were invited for a tea or coffee, sometimes for lunch, cake and even once for chacha (Georgian vodka). However, one should consider these invitations as a part of Georgian hospitality, not at all as an attempt to influence the work of the international observers. The elections were transparent, smooth and professionally organized. No major problems occurred during opening of the PS, voting and tabulation of results. Nonetheless, as it was reported by other teams, there were few attempts of multiple voting, few allegations of violations of secrecy of vote, but it was a marginal issue. Generally, international observers were very well received and provided with appropriate information.

The elections were won by a candidate of the “Georgian Dream” coalition Giorgi Margvelashvili, who participated in elections with number 41. He received 62.11% of votes, which means the second round of voting will not be held. A representative of the “United National Movement” of the outgoing president Mihail Saakashvili – David Bakradze – took second place with the result of 21.73%. Third came Nino Burjanadze from “Democratic Movement – One Georgia”, ex-supporter of M. Saakashvili, came with 10.18% of votes. General turnout reached 49,96%. This choice of Georgian people finishes a year of political cohabitation. Since the parliamentary elections last year the government has consisted of the “Georgian Dream” with Bidzina Ivanishvili as the prime minister confronting with president Saakashvili from UNM. Moreover, the last constitutional reform assumes changes in Georgian political system. Under the new president, starting from January 2014 the current presidential system will be replaced with the parliamentarian-cum-cabinet one. This means that the government with the prime minister ahead will be appointed by the Parliament in cooperation with the Head of State and will be responsible in front of the Chamber; thus the prime minister will gather the majority of competences that used to belong to the president.

Having experienced the election I can say that it is a big step ahead for Georgia in consolidation of its democracy. The country proved that it is able to conduct fair and peaceful elections. For Georgia, which had experienced many frauds and abuses during previous presidential elections, it is a reason for pride. In my opinion, by carrying out a good organization of such a complex process, Georgia proved to be truly European. Now, about a month before the Eastern Partnership summit that will take place at the end of November in Vilnius, Georgia has to focus on closing further chapters in negotiations of Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement in order to foster the deepening of integration with the EU. For Georgia, where according to the OSCE statistics about 85% of the population strongly supports the Transatlantic integration, it should not be a too tough task.

[1] The ‘mobile box’ is a small voting box which is moved around the voting district, it allows people to vote without leaving their house, for example if they are sick.

Cezary Szczepaniuk graduated from University of Maria Curie-Skłodowska in Lublin, Poland with Master degree in international relations and from College of Europe European Interdisciplinary Studies with “EU as a regional actor” specialization. His interests vary from international security, Eastern Partnership, Ukrainian geopolitics and French security to defence policy. He took part as an international observer in the Election Observation Mission during presidential elections in Georgia on October 27, 2013.

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