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.
It can be argued that the victory of the ruling coalition candidate in the Sagarejo elections was largely a result of the support of ethnic Azerbaijani voters, whilst Inashvili’s supporters were mainly ethnic Georgians. This finding isn’t all that surprising, and follows a general pattern from Georgian elections past: Azerbaijanis in Sagarejo municipality almost always support the government. In 2012 parliamentary elections, the United National Movement gained 83% of votes in Azerbaijani villages, whilst in Georgian settlements the party barely won one third of votes. A year later, the Azerbaijani population of Sagarejo voted overwhelmingly (58%) for the presidential candidate of the new government.
The victory of the government-endorsed candidate in Sagarejo by-elections was mostly influenced not by the special precinct, but by the support of the municipality’s ethnic Azerbaijani population. As in the past, in the 2016 parliamentary elections, ethnic minority support for the ruling party is likely to be significant.