On 9 June, GIP presented a report on “Monitoring the Implementation of the Code of Conduct by Political Parties in Georgia”, published with the support of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Prior to the 2020 elections, 40 Georgian political parties signed the political party Code of Conduct (CoC). By signing the document, the parties voluntarily undertook a commitment to fulfilling pre-election competition principles, to abide by ethical norms, respect each other and the voters, and to refrain from taking action that violated ethical norms. The report aims to monitor the extent to which the major political Georgian parties fulfilled these norms and principles. The report made use of a number of quantitative and qualitative research methods, including desk research, interviewswith party representatives and experts and media monitoring of major TV channels, and analyses the extent to which different signatory parties implemented selected CoC norms. Monitoring included the effectiveness of the self-regulating mechanisms outlined in the document and elaborated by the parties, and the extent to which campaigning was issue-based.
Speakers and the guests of the event were welcomed by Dr. Kornely Kakachia, Director, Georgian Institute of Politics and Armin Rieser, Human Security Adviser, the Swiss Embassy. The presentation was moderated by Levan Ttutskiridze, Director, Eastern European Centre for Multiparty Democracy (EECMD). While, the report itself was presented by the authors:
- Salome Apkhazishvili, Media Researcher
- Nino Robakidze, Media Researcher
- Ana Dabrundashvili, Media Researcher
- Givi Silagadze, Georgian Institute of Politics
- Nino Samkharadze, Georgian Institute of Politics
The report presentation was followed by the comments made by John di Pirro, Country Director, International Republican Institute (IRI). Attendees had a possibility to address the recommendations and discuss the challenges to ethical campaigning in polarized political environment.
Take a look at the key findings:
- Lack of information. The parties did not have the full information regarding the CoC. Party leaders were familiar with CoC commitments, since the decisions to become signatories of the Code were taken after joint discussions with them and before the document was signed. However, information-sharing was not systemic in relation to activists, other party members, and, most importantly, their supporters. As for the latter, information was shared with them to the least extent. Some party representatives did not have enough information about other CoC signatories. Social media, which is a widespread platform in Georgia, was used by only two out of ten of the parties monitored as a tool for communicating about the CoC.
- Limited communications. Communicating about the CoC and information-sharing by parties was usually limited to discussions during political council meetings, with the document being sent to regional party structures, and in some cases through verbal introductions during regional meetings. However, the parties did not go into detail during such communications and discussion was confined to general information about signing the document. It is noteworthy that, as demonstrated by the interviews, the parties considered the CoC to be in line with moral and ethical norms, and therefore did not see the need for formal and systemic communication about the document.
- Absence of implementation mechanism. None of the ten parties selected had established any new mechanism for implementation and monitoring. In general, any implementation and monitoring function was fulfilled by internal structural units that were already in place. However, it was notable that parties had not given specific instructions to these units on how the commitments taken under the CoC should be implemented and monitored.
- Lack of issue-based discussion. In total 1160 speeches by representatives of the selected 10 party were identified for monitoring from October 20, 2020 to October 30, 2020, during the prime-time period (20:00-23:59). Most of the speeches monitored did not include subject-oriented, program- and issue-based discussion related to either policy changes or policy implications. Out of 1160 speeches, 54% were assessed as not issue-based at all. Approximately a third of the speeches (32%) were assessed as partially issue-based, while 14% were assessed as fully subject-oriented, program – and issue-based.
- Negative campaigns still prevailed. Media monitoring revealed that political party representatives frequently violated the CoC in the media. Over the ten days of monitoring, more than 300 violations were detected. Most of these were personal insults, or unsubstantiated statements by politicians that accused opponents of crimes or misconduct, or otherwise aimed to harm the reputation of the opponent in the eyes of the voters. Routine use of insults, accusations and slander in the media could only serve to divide and confuse the voters, rather than help them make informed decisions. However, politicians refrained from using hate speech or calling for mass violence through the media.
- Effects of political polarization are strong when it comes to adhering to ethical principles. Media monitoring showed that even though 50 political parties were registered for the 2020 Parliamentary elections, the elections were mostly two-sided, and represented a battlefield for the ruling party on one hand, and the opposition on the other hand. Almost all the detected violations were made either by the ruling party referring to the opposition, or vice versa.
- Facing the Challenge of Restraint among leadership. Most violations were made by speakers who held high positions in their parties (either the Top -10 party list, or the majoritarian candidate), which was to be expected since most of the time they would be able to secure airtime. Men outnumbered women in making violations by nearly five times.
- Divergent interpretation. Discussing specific instances of violations with stakeholders (political parties and experts) revealed that whether or not an act by political organizations constituted a violation of the CoC might be subject to diverse interpretations of (1) the CoC principles themselves or (2) the context of a particular violation.
- Blurred line between competition and violation. It is important to measure the circumstances of personalization – who makes the violation and against whom, since the violation might at first sight be part of “political competition” or “innocent criticism”.
- Demonizing opponents as an art. According to the reports, and other official sources provided by local and international observers, the pre-election period of the 2020 Parliamentary election was marred by negative campaigning, attacking and demonizing particular political subjects, the abuse of administrative resources, cases of physical violence, campaigns to discredit candidates and parties and fake support pages.
- Political party representatives highly misunderstand or miscommunicate inclusivity in their pre-electoral campaigns: international and local observers indicated failures to represent traditionally vulnerable minority groups in the political process while political party representatives perceived female participation, youth involvement and ethnic minorities’ inclusion as among their assets in pre-election campaigning.