The Alliance of Patriots of Georgia Starts a Hunger Strike
A Protest Action to Protect the Upcoming Parliamentary Elections in October 2016On November 8, 2015, to support the large-scale rally of more than 18,550 people against gross electoral fraud in the Sagarejo district, the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia resorted to drastic measures and announced a long-term hunger strike.
103 participants, Tbilisi, Georgia.
The protest action was first started by 5 leaders of the party, namely Irma Inashvili, Ada Marshania, Giorgi Lomia, Emzar Kvitsiani, and Levan Tediashvili, near the building of the Government Administration in Tbilisi. However, immediately after the party leaders began their hunger strike, many people from all over the country joined the protest to support the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia and its legitimate demands related to the change of electoral environment in the state. Thus, in total 103 people participated in the hunger strike, which lasted for 16 days, and the protesters stayed vigilantly under an open sky in solidarity with the party leaders. In Tbilisi, 72 of persons participated in the hunger strike, and 31 others also took part in large cities and towns of Georgia, including Sagarejo, Kutaisi, Rustavi, Batumi, Gori, Poti, Zugdidi, Telavi, Ozurgeti, Lanchkhuti, Kobuleti, and Sighnaghi.
The key demand of the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia within the protest action was the change of the electoral environment with strong guarantees from the government that the massive electoral fraud, which happened in the Sagarejo district during the By-Elections for a single mandate constituency to the Georgian Parliament, won’t be repeated during the upcoming Parliamentary Elections in October 2016.
The protesters didn’t stop their hunger strike until government representatives finally came out to negotiate with the protesters and agreed to fulfill their demands. However, the government officials came out to protesters only after 15 days in severe weather conditions despite the fact that the protest took place in front of the government building. Moreover, the protesters on hunger strike were not provided with any basic necessities, which are obligatory in accordance with the Georgian law, such as 24-hour emergency ambulance services and bio-toilets. In addition, police officers forced the protesters to remove their tents installed, which gave them protection against the elements, and therefore the protesters were forced to stay under an open sky in the rain and cold. During this period, 10 of the hunger strike protesters (including 2 party leaders) had to be transported to the hospital, as several of them had caught pneumonia due to the harsh weather conditions. The individuals’ health had deteriorated so dramatically that doctors had to carry them into ambulance on stretchers.
Meanwhile though, supportive citizens and several doctors came daily to examine and support the protesters on hunger strike on their own. The protesters were also visited by different NGOs, which expressed solidarity with them and repeatedly appealed openly to the government with the demand to provide hunger strike protesters with the necessary conditions to ensure the safety of their lives and health. In particular, the NGOs demanded that the government would provide the protesters on hunger strike with 24-hour emergency ambulances, and that police officers would stop hindering the protesters from installing bio-toilets and other necessities obligatory in accordance with the law and important for maintaining normal health. The NGOs also demanded that an investigation of all complaints related to the falsification and electoral violations detected during the By-Election in the Sagarejo district should be conducted in the immediate future.
However, despite the fact that all possible methods were used to create unbearable conditions with the aim of forcing the hunger strike protesters to leave, the number of people joining the hunger strike increased. On the night of November 12th, the protesters were even left without electricity despite the fact that the nearby government building remained unaffected. By the 15th day of the hunger strike more than 500 people came to the party’s office in Tbilisi and pledged to join the hunger strike in solidarity with the leaders of the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia.
Only after the party announced publicly that the hunger strike would soon swell to more than 500 people, the government came out for negotiations, and Irma Inashvili, the General Secretary of the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, met with the First Vice Speaker of Parliament Manana Kobakhidze. During the meeting Inashvili presented a very specific package of legislative amendments to the Electoral Code of Georgia related to the improvement of the electoral environment. This package included the following reforms:
1. The electoral system should be changed: elections should be conducted under the proportional electoral system instead of single-mandate (majoritarian) electoral system (single-mandate constituencies should be abolished);
2. A fair electoral environment should be ensured by the following conditions:
- The election administration of all levels must be composed on a parity basis: all qualified political parties should have their representatives in electoral commissions of all levels, including the Georgian Central Election Commission (CEC), District and Precinct Election Commissions;
- The creation of special polling stations must be forbidden;
- The use of administrative resource during elections must be strictly forbidden and made a criminal offence, so that no state officials would be able to interfere in the electoral process and exert pressure on voters to support certain candidates;
- All qualified political parties must be provided with equitable pre-election environment: the electoral candidates should receive equitable funding and media time for their pre-election campaign.
3. The ballot numbers, previously assigned to qualified political parties, must remain the same during the Parliamentary Elections 2016;
4. Participation in elections should become obligatory (like in democracies, such as Australia) to prevent repeat voting (the so-called "carousel voting").
The Committee of the Parliamentary Majority, which was specially created for this issue and which is headed by Manana Kobakhidze, expressed a willingness to work together with the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia on the changes proposed by the party. Thus, on the 16th day of the hunger strike, the leaders of the Georgian Patriots announced publicly that they stopped their drastic protest action. Fortunately, all hunger strike participants have eventually recovered and returned to full health.