TBILISI, DFWatch–Georgia’s Public Defender calls for postponing the local elections amid skyrocketing numbers of new Covid-19 cases and deaths. Nino Lomjaria’s call is backed by the opposition, but the government categorically rules out postponing the poll, which is scheduled for October.
“We have more than 60-70 dead per day. What more stringent regulations should we expect to be introduced ? Why is no one discussing [..] whether it is possible to hold elections in such a situation ? What could be more alarming and deplorable in this country ?” said Public Defender Nino Lomjaria.
She was immediately supported by most opposition parties. According to Salome Samadashvili, a member of the parliamentary faction “Lelo”, the government hopes to hold elections at the peak of the epidemiological crisis, so that people do not go to the polls, and then intends to impose restrictions.
Gigi Ugulava, who is the United National Movement’s (UNM) candidate for mayor of Poti, has a similar opinion.
“The government does not care about thousands of our dead citizens. It is also clear that there is an obvious conflict between epidemiologists and Prime Minister Gharibashvili. Georgian Dream’s plan is to make people more afraid and less likely to go to the polls, to falsify [the ballot] and then announce lockdown,” Ugulava said.
If the epidemiologists agree, Citizens and the party of former PM Giorgi Gakharia, For Georgia, are in favor of postponing the elections.
Georgian Dream claims that a postponement would be a boon for the opposition, which looks likely to lose the elections, and that the ombudsman acts as an advocate for the main opposition party, UNM.
“I think that the Public Defender, as well as a number of independent political activists who presume to be non-partisan, have become advocates for the interests of the National Movement. Election day will be organized to the extent that the threats are minimized,” said Giorgi Volski, Georgian Dream MP.
According to Mikheil Sarjveladze, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, “it is possible to conduct the election process with epidemiological prudence”, and he pointed to the 2020 parliamentary elections as an example of that.
The only legal mechanism for postponing the elections is a declaration of a state of emergency, and when the Public Defender speaks about declaring a state of emergency, “this is an anomaly in itself”, said GD chairman Irakli Kobakhidze.
Amiran Gamkrelidze, head of the National Center for Disease Control, did not answer journalists’ questions about whether he considered it appropriate to postpone the elections and what recommendations he would make to the government. He said this is a “political issue” on which he doesn’t recommend publicly.
By law, elections are not held during a state of emergency. Only the president has the power to declare a state of emergency on the recommendation of the PM.
Asked whether President Salome Zurabishvili would consider postponing the local elections, the presidential administration told Netgazeti that the president would express her position on this issue based on the epidemiological situation and after consulting with everyone.