The main purpose of this paper is to direct to the problem of voter abstention in Georgia. Our country is not an old democracy, but it is in a process of building sustainability and stability, achieving the increase of people’s high representation and participation in political activities. One of the major criteria for measuring democracy in a particular country is voter turnout rate. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistanceis an intergovernmental organization, which works in this specific field and according to the assessment principles it uses, Participation culture is crucial, therefore voter turnout really matters, especially if country has just started to build its proper political institutions and government is widely perceived as a body, which permanently loses trust.
Georgia is the young democracy and participation culture development is decisive part in its whole development process. According to CEC (Central Elections Commission) reports there are approximately 3.6 million voting age population, but only few of them are actively involved in polls.
This paper has not evaluated the costs of alternatives yet, so we cannot summarize data and say what the optimal choice is to increase turnout level.
Georgia was under soviet rule during nearly 70 years, and soviet mentality was wide spread. And even now this phenomenonhinders democratization process and consequently represents one of the main obstacles towards the European integration. People haven’t yet achieved to that level of self-conscious, when all shares the responsibility to participate in policy making, vote independently and step by step form better civil society.
According to CEC and IDEA reports, voter turnouts are decreasing. Tab. #1; Tab. #2
Looking at the tables we can easily find the data which contradicts our logic, for example parliamentary elections 2008 and 2012, where the activity has little bit increased from 53% to 56%, but generally tendency is lessening. And high activity in 2012 was encouraged by strong tension between two major parties “UNM” and “Georgian Dream”. It was momentary and the focal argument is 2013 presidential elections, where voter turnout level fell again to 46 %.
Why Does Turnout Matter?
Since the independence declared in Georgia and election of national institutions started, voter turnout is not stable and is permanently falling down. Of course, voter abstention is a common phenomenon in many countries around the world, more so in Western Europe, the USA, or Japan.“In the past, some electoral scholarshave argued that a small turnout is not necessarily a depraved thing. It might even be considered as a sign of voter happiness and trust in the established system, but obviously Georgia couldn’t be ascribed to such examples and on the other hand, this vision, however, is relatively out of step with the rising demand for participatory democracy in today’s world.
Should be mentioned that, there are several reasons, why turnouts matter. At first, abstention from the polls outstandingly weakens the electoral process and damages the legitimacy of elected government bodies, at second, it shows the nihilism of people and harms state status, today’s political conditions of Georgia couldn’t be considered as safe and sustainable, cause our country is almost in a war, although we are strongly determined to step forward towards NATO and EU integration, so participation is essential not only for internal causes, but external too. In addition, if Georgia becomes EU member, European Parliament elections will be held and Georgian nation should participate, nowadays this actual procedure also lacks attendance and there they have crisis (43%, 2009), so Georgia shouldn’t be considered as additional problem for that circumstances.
I made survey to identify electoral feelings toward polls. Population number was 100, selecting method was random. And the final results look so:
34 percent answered that they went to elections and hoped their vote would change the results.
13 percent said that they went to elections, but their trust towards process was lacked.
40 percent said that they didn’t go to elections and causes are various:
13 Percent refused to answer question.
One certain problem is also internal migration, because, as I had an interview with CEC employee – GiorgiAzariashvili, according to Georgian Election Law elector can only vote at the place of registration, except IDP-s (Internally Displaced Person) from Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region and people working at specific fields of public service for example: consulates, military work and etc.
This attitudes show that most people feel absent in any kind of decision making, they lack self-conscious of civil society or haven’t the possibility to vote.
There was not any strategy or comprehensive policy to tackle this challenge, only provisional and short-term, it was circled by sermons of elite’s various representatives, which were trying to encourage voters to attend elections, but it couldn’t change the reality.
More or less effective way to influence electorate to increase the level of turnout was UNM institute of so called coordinator. There was organized system of electorate management, which considered understanding ones’ political views and encouraging them to go to ballots, especially those whose decision was seemed satisfactory, for their party.
Coordinator – was paid job and it also improved the employment rate in election periods, so attendance level was man-made and it didn’t exemplified the reality.
The other cause of momentary increases was solid tension between major political parties; they both prepared their voters to come to Polls but the methods they used were expensive and therefore it gave them opportunity to increase their percentage at such level that no other small parties overcome barrier and it made difficult for them to gain seats in parliament or elsewhere in decision making bodies.
One more attempt to inspire electorate to use their right and vote was CEC advertisements, TV commercials and Internet ads, maybe it’s considered as inoperable and impractical in short-term magnitudes, but it encourages and builds reliance upon CEC system and tackles the challenge as well.
Voter turnout rate in Georgia is decreasing.
According to CEC and IDEA reports, Georgian electorates attendance level is decreasing and as an example we can mention, that unfortunately in the last polls voter turnout was low than 50 percent. Decreasing tendency can provoke legitimacy crisis for example: winner Mr. GiorgiMargvelashvili got about 60 percent of votes – it means that only approximately 28 percent of whole voting age population gave the mandate to him.
Governmentand Parliament ofGeorgia – has the power of law making and implementing, also it plays a pivotal role to make election process transparent and fair.
CEC Central Elections Commission – is leading body of the whole process of planning and administering. CEC builds its image and prestige and therefore the democracy rate of the country.
NGOs – Non-Governmental Organizations – this entities, who are specialized in our particular field, participate in election process, observe and make reports, but the most important part of their job is actions before polls, when they call population for participation and attending ballots.
Electorate – they are people directly affected by the stated problem and resolving actions’ side-effects.
International Organizations – also play the certain role in the process of turnout and then assessment.
Political Parties –This political units are crucial for the abovementioned problem and have one of the major roles.
Media– TVs, Journals, Magazines, and InternetProviders have strong influence on public opinion constructing.
The goal is to stop decreasing tendency of Voter turnout level in Georgia and then increase electorate attendance at ballots.
Objective is to increase above mentioned percentage by at least 15-20 point in 4-5 years period.
The measurement of success will be the future results of Polls and statistics of CEC and IDEA and other related organizations.
1. Compulsory Voting System
Most democratic governments consider participating in countrywide polls a right of social conscience. The othersthink that participation at elections is also a citizen's civic responsibility. In some countries, where voting is considered an obligation, voting at elections has been made compulsory and has been regulated in the national constitutions and electoral laws. Some countries go as far as to impose sanctions on non-voters.
Compulsory voting system is not a new phenomenon; Belgium has the oldest tradition of such kind, introduced in 1892 for men and in 1949 for woman. If one fails to vote four times, one will lose right to vote for 10 years.
There are more than 20 countries with such mandatory system of elections and everyone has its own approach towards sanctions, I guess according to their culture and way of life.
So, this alternative should be shaped in the filters of compatibility to our nation and its behavior. If one doesn’t participate in elections for 3 times, should be banned for 10 years. And there should be restrictions for getting jobs in public sector.
2. Widening Special Juridical Status Definition
In the Georgian Electoral law, IDPs from Abkhazia and Tskhivali Region have Special Juridical Status and thus they can vote by their Actual Addresses, but usual Georgian citizen should vote only by legal address. As we have approximately half million internal migrants, they have to travel through Georgian territory to arrive to the places of registration and then vote. It is real trouble if we take into account poor economic situation of our country and travel costs.
Therefore if we change the law and give these people the possibility to register as a special juridical status person, and indicate their actual address, this problem will disappear.
May be some people prefer to keep the same attitude and don’t change the policy towards the abovementioned problem. These people think that Georgia is a developing country with developing civil society and developing civil consciousness, changing old, communistically shaped mentality into modern approach toward statehood and politics. Academician in applied economics, LadoPapava mentions that modern Georgian is homotransformaticus, which plays a role of transitory phenomenon.
Therefore this people think that problem will be solved automatically and time will change the conditions and behavior of electorate’s actions.
Another way of dealing with the problem is sermons; in this particular approach Media plays crucial role, also NGOs, CEC advertisements, Government appeals, proclamations of representatives of sports and culture. Generally, famous citizens should encourage their countrymen to participate in elections and do their bit in the entire decision making process.
Government should make incentives for NGOs to work about that particular problem and do their best to tackle the challenge and help society to step further towards democracy and participatory culture.
According to alternatives, main assessment criteria should be cost, time compatibility, effectiveness and efficiency of actions. The certain useful criteria will be feasibility and easiness with the possible reaction of electorate towards our attempts.
http://www.idea.int/publications/sod/upload/demo_ass_inlay_eng_L.pdf pp.5 14.11.2013, 2:06
AnthoulaMalkopoulou, CEPS Working Document No. 317/July 2009 pp.1-2
 Morris-Jones, W.H. (1954), “In Defense of Apathy”, Political Studies, pp. 36-37.