The Fury Before the Storm
The Georgian Parliamentary by-elections held on October 31, 2015 are regarded by some Georgia watchers as a ‘final rehearsal’ for the 2016 general elections, and the results have been hotly debated. Tamar Khidasheli, who represented the Republican Party and the Georgian Dream Coalition (GDC), defeated her opponent from the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, Irma Inashvili, by a margin of less than one percentage point. The results were met with intensive questioning not only from representatives of the Alliance, but some members of the ruling coalition as well. Opponents were especially critical of the ‘special electoral precinct’ of the Ministry of Defense where Mukhrovani Military Base personnel voted. Although, the special precinct existed during the previous elections, Khidasheli’s opponents argued that votes from the military made an outsized contribution to the victory of the Republican candidate. They also accused the former majoritarian of Sagarjo and current Defense Minister of the Republican Party, Tinatin Khidasheli, of unlawful interference in electoral matters. The situation reached a nadir when Transparency International Georgia approached the prosecutor’s office to start an investigation of the Sagarejo elections, although the investigation was later stopped. This blog post does not look at any would-be procedural violations in the Sagarejo elections, but does describe the geographic, demographic and ethnic peculiarities of voters which could have contributed to Tamar Khidasheli’s victory in the elections and will likely be of consequence to the general elections.
The absolute difference in votes between Khidasheli and Inashvili constituted only 559 votes. Votes cast at special precincts are counted at “mother” precincts, and vote counts at special precincts are published together with the “mother” precinct count. Hence, it is impossible to distinguish between the vote counts of the two. As the graph below shows, even if the results at the special precinct and its “mother” precinct were to be annulled, Khidasheli would be the likely winner. However, the margin of victory would have been only 87 votes. Clearly, every vote was significant for Khidasheli’s victory.
Note: The height of the bars corresponds to the number of votes for each candidate, the labels denote vote share. Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding error.
Voting patterns in Georgia differ across location, ethnicity and religious denomination. Eighty percent of Sagarejo’s population lives in rural areas, and about forty percent are ethnic Azerbaijanis. Historically, ethnic minority votes in Georgia constitute an important source of electoral support for ruling political parties. Looking at the demographic peculiarities of the Sagarejo by-elections gives interesting insights into the voting behavior of municipality residents.
The graph below shows election results disaggregated by settlement type. In urban areas, Inashvili won decisively. The race was relatively close in Georgian villages, but again the opposition candidate came out on top. In Azerbaijani precincts, the Republican candidate overwhelmed her opponent.
Note: The height of the bars corresponds to the count number of votes for each candidate, the labels denote vote share received in each settlement. Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding error.
While the chart above shows that votes from Azerbaijani villages were decisive for the victory of Tamar Khidasheli, when comparing the geographic and demographic peculiarities of each candidate’s supporters, it is clear that the socio-demographic make-up of Khidasheli’s voters was similar to that of participating voters overall. On the other hand, urban voters and voters from Georgian villages disproportionately supported Inashvili.
Three months before the 2016 Parliamentary elections: Trust in the Central Election Commission and election observers in GeorgiaThe June 2016 CRRC/NDI Public attitudes in Georgia survey, conducted three months before the Parliamentary elections, provides interesting information about trust in the Central Election Commission (CEC) and election observers, both local and international.
Taking partly free voters seriously: autocratic response to voter preferences in Armenia and GeorgiaDo voters in less than democratic contexts matter or are elections simply facades used to create a veneer of democratic accountability for domestic and international actors? Within the Autocratic Response to Voter Preferences in Armenia and Georgia project, funded by Academic Swiss Caucasus Net, CRRC-Georgia and CRRC-Armenia aimed to help answer this question, at least for Georgia and Armenia. On October 27, Caucasus Survey published the results of the project in a special issue, available here.
The 2018 presidential elections, and particularly, the events surrounding the second round, have come to be considered a setback for Georgia’s democratic trajectory. Between the first and second round, it was announced that 600,000 voters would have debt relief immediately following the elections, leading some to suggest this was a form of vote buying. A number of instances of electoral fraud were also alleged. The use of party coordinators around election precincts was also widely condemned.
But what do people want?
While many things could divide the public, what do the people think and which groups report more and fewer sources of division? The April 2019 NDI-CRRC poll suggests that there are fewer perceived reasons for division in rural areas and among ethnic minorities.
The long-fought-over electoral reform was a compromise which represents two steps forward after three steps had been taken back.