In the captivity of elections: Gali population between Tbilisi and Sokhumi
The residents of Gali are seen as unreliable citizens by the de facto authorities of Abkhazia for their ethnicity and by the central government of Georgia for their "undesirable" political activism, which was particularly evident during the local elections.
Tensions were high on both sides of the Enguri Bridge during the pre-election period. This tension became especially alarming during the second round of elections. Residents of the Gali district, who have daily activities or periodic necessities in Zugdidi and moved to an area controlled by the central government, found that the Enguri crossing point was closed by the Abkhaz side. The de facto government limited itself to making general statements about the Covid situation, however, many residents of Gali believe that the "temporary" measure was linked to the elections. This view is reinforced by the fact that the situation with regard to the spread of the virus has not stabilized, although the crossing point was officially opened on November 1. According to the information available to the Democracy Research Institute, de facto Abkhaz border guards were saying in private conversations that the decision to close the "border" was made at Tbilisi's request.
Many residents of Gali are registered in Zugdidi in order to receive public services in an area controlled by the central government. Registration in Zugdidi gives them the opportunity to be involved in political processes and exercise their civil and political rights. It is difficult to speak about the loyalty of the population of Gali to any Georgian political party. Nevertheless, residents of Gali think that some circles of the central government perceived the political activism of Gali as a threat due to the fear of a possible advantage of the opposition forces in Zugdidi. Perhaps this is why an opinion was raised that the closed "border" prevented the mobilization of the supposedly opposition-minded voters.
This view is reinforced by the reports that supporters of the ruling party asked residents of Gali to hand over their Georgian ID cards, which was refused by most of them. As far as the Democracy Research Institute is aware, individuals with criminal backgrounds were actively involved in this process and moved freely across Gali and its villages.
Georgian legislation criminalizes obstruction of the expression of the free will of voters in elections, referendums and plebiscites. The artificial obstruction of the local population from participating in the local self-government elections by closing the Enguri Bridge is alarming and requires a proper explanation from the central government of Georgia – about who obstructed the freedom of movement of Gali residents during the elections and why.