There are numerous factors that set and define the level of electoral integrity in any one country, ranging from ethical conduct to transparency and accountability. It is the confluence of these factors, and many others, which often determines the level of development of a country’s electoral democracy and affects how an election is perceived, both domestically and internationally. Strengthening a single defining factor while disregarding another will not yield a free and equitable election. To illustrate, a country with strong institutional safeguards – a key component of electoral integrity – will not sustain democratic headway without other components, such as a professional election administration, proper enforcement or transparency. Whether it is a flawed, or simply untrusted voter registry, low civic participation, or vulnerabilities in the electoral process, a single factor can severely damage the integrity of an election, affecting the legitimacy of the victor, and shaking the confidence of the voters in the outcomes. In Georgia, this resulted in a 2003 peaceful revolution that bypassed a fraudulent system that had little-to-no legitimacy in the eyes of the electorate.
Since regaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia has witnessed war, violent and peaceful political revolutions, and an electoral evolution. Despite constant internal and external challenges, in 2012 Georgia saw its first peaceful and democratic transition of power through the ballot box. The 2012 parliamentary elections, followed by the 2013 and 2014 presidential and local self-government elections, represented historic and laudable shifts for the country in terms of its democratic development. While vulnerabilities and needs persist, the convergence of key factors including improved election management body administration; heightened political competition and citizen participation; increased trust in and accuracy of the voter list; and an increasingly pro-active civil society set the stage for this electoral evolution.
Recognizing the need for a sustained, multi-tiered approach in Georgia, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) designed and implemented various complementary programs and interventions, spanning two decades, which targeted and addressed key vulnerabilities to electoral integrity and democracy in the country. Partnering with government and academic institutions, election management bodies, civil society organizations, media and political parties, IFES’ recently-concluded four-year project included:
- The strengthening of electoral legislation and electoral procedures by facilitating the legal reform process and contributing best practices and international standards;
- Training and technical assistance to all levels of Georgia’s election administration including the Central Election Commission – gaining the status of a leading public institution in terms of public trust by 2014 – and other institutions responsible for campaign finance and voter registration;
- Training for nearly 200 political party lawyers on election dispute resolution;
- The development of over 300 gender-focused media reports, along with nationwide public seminars and trainings on women’s political participation;
- The engagement of over 40,000 ethnic minority citizens of Georgia on electoral and civic participation;
- The first live televised issue-based debates for mayoral, parliamentary, and presidential candidates;
- Support to 35 local nongovernmental organizations working on electoral issues to strengthen civil society involvement, transparency and oversight;
- Support to initiatives that increased the accuracy of and trust in Georgia’s voter list; and
- Training for 41 university-level civic educators in interactive, civic education methodology and the completion of a semester-long civic education course, titled Democracy and Citizenship, by 4,000 university students; the course was developed by IFES and is offered at 22 universities throughout the country.
“Precedent creates tradition,” is a slogan that was displayed prominently by Georgia’s Central Election Commission on the heels of the country’s 2014 local self-government elections. With this message in mind, IFES continues to work with local partners to strengthen Georgia’s electoral integrity with an eye to the 2016 parliamentary elections and beyond.