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On 14 January 2016, a representative of the Parliamentary Opposition, Mikheil Machavariani, made the following statement in regard to the participation of military servicemen in the Gardabani Municipality’s snap election for its gamgebeli: "Not a single military serviceman was registered in Gardabani for the 2014 municipal elections. This raises suspicions that the Minister of Defence is involved in the election process and is making an effort to attain victory in the election with the help of those 700 military servicemen."

FactCheck

took interest in the statement and verified its accuracy.

A snap election is scheduled for the position of the Gardabani Municipality’s gamgebeli on 28 January 2016. There are two candidates vying for the position – former football player and Georgian Dream candidate, Gocha Jamarauli, and the representative of the United National Movement, Besik Kakhabrishvili. The District Election Commission of Gardabani registered the Precinct Election Commission N64 which was established specifically for this occasion. The Precinct Election Commission is located at the teaching building of the Vaziani 1st

Artillery Brigade. Approximately 700 military servicemen will cast their votes at the Precinct Election Commission.

Non-governmental organisations have protested against the aforementioned decision. The representatives of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) and the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) asserted that the process was not transparent. According to their statement, military servicemen are able to vote for candidate seven when they are not registered as voters in the district. In line with the law, soldiers should have spent at least one year at the Vaziani military base in order to have the right to vote at the Precinct Election Commission opened on the base’s territory. The non-governmental organisations asked the Ministry of Defence for information about the military servicemen who are able to vote at the Vaziani military base on 28 January 2016. Additionally, the organisations asked for proof that the servicemen had been deployed in Gardabani for more than a year already. The Ministry of Defence, however, did not release the requested information.

FactCheck

contacted Mikheil Machavariani as well. According to his clarification, military servicemen could not possibly have been registered for the 2016municipal elections in Gardabani because there was no Precinct Election Commission established there (the so-called Special Precinct Election Commission created as an exception). Of note is that the Central Election Commission of Georgia did not satisfy the demand of local election observer organisations to revoke the decisions made by the District Election Commission of Gardabani in regard to the special Precinct Election Commission and delegated the responsibility about the military servicemen’s voter list to the Ministry of Defence. According to the statement of the Deputy Minister of Defence, Besik Loladze, the lists are compiled in strict observance of the law.

FactCheck

also contacted the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy in regard to the documentation of those military servicemen who would be taking part in the elections. According to the information of an ISFED representative, the Ministry of Defence rejected calls to release information about the troops who were taking part in the elections on the grounds of privacy of personal data.

According to the information of the Central Election Commission of Georgia’s website, there was no special Precinct Election Commission established for the 2014 Gardabani municipal elections. There were only 20 special Precinct Election Commissions throughout the country for the 2014 municipal elections and the Vaziani 1st

Artillery Brigade was not among them. The District Election Commission of Gardabani deemed it necessary to create a special Precinct Election Commission only now for the snap gamgebeli election. Therefore, those military servicemen who are not registered in the Gardabani Municipality were given the right to vote in the forthcoming 28 January 2016 election.

On 24 January 2016, Deputy Minister of Defence, Besik Loladze, together with representatives of the General Staff of the Georgian Armed Forces, visited the military units which will have a special Precinct Election Commission opened for the 28 January 2016 election. On 25 January 2016, the Prime Minister of Georgia, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, made the following statement at a meeting with the non-parliamentary opposition inter-party group: "We are going to abolish the special Precinct Election Commissions as such and the respective political decision has already been made." Mikheil Machavariani commented upon the Prime Minister’s statement that if the Government of Georgia decided to abolish the special Precinct Election Commissions, this should also have been the case for the 28 January Gardabani snap election.

FactCheck contacted the Central Election Commission of Georgia. The Commission’s representative stated in his interview with FactCheck

that the political decision, announced by Giorgi Kvirikashvili, did not concern the forthcoming Gardabani snap election. Additionally, as clarified by the Central Election Commission’s representative, the court did not satisfy the complaint expressed by the non-governmental organisations and left the decision concerning the establishment of the special Precinct Election Commission in place. Therefore, there was no legal ground to dissolve the Precinct Election Commission.

Of further note is that the aforementioned non-governmental organisations responded to Giorgi Kvirikashvili’s statement in regard to the abolition of special Precinct Election Commissions. The organisations stated that the abolition of the special Precinct Election Commissions in the manner proposed by the Government of Georgia cannot fundamentally solve the problem which has persisted over many years in regard to the rules of the participation of military servicemen in elections. Transparency International Georgia clarified for FactCheck

that even though the plan of the Government of Georgia has not yet materialised into a legislative document, it is clear that the special Precinct Election Commissions will only be abolished formally and military servicemen will still be able to vote. The difference is that there will be no special Precinct Election Commission on the territory of a military unit but a mobile box will be used instead as a means for collecting the votes of the soldiers. This, the non-governmental organisations believe, will make the election observation process even more difficult.

Conclusion Military servicemen were not registered in Gardabani for the 2014 municipal elections. There was no special Precinct Election Commission whatsoever in the municipality. FactCheck

was unable to obtain information about those military servicemen who are going to participate in the Gardabani snap election for gamgebeli. Therefore, it is unknown to us whether or not they were registered at the base one year before the elections. Of important note is that the Central Election Commission of Georgia charges the Ministry of Defence with the responsibility for the voters lists whilst the Ministry of Defence refuses to release the information.

FactCheck concludes that Mikheil Machavariani’s statement is TRUE.

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