The messenger logo

OSCE monitoring report faults Central Election Commission, but says election laws are adequate

By Eter Tsotniashvili
Monday, December 24
An OSCE election observation mission released its first report on December 21, saying Georgia’s election laws are “generally conducive to the conduct of democratic elections, if implemented in good faith,” but raising concerns over allegations of campaign violations and last-minute amendments to election laws.

“Such late amendments are generally inconsistent with good practice in electoral matters,” the carefully-worded interim report warned. Parliament approved a bundle of election law amendments on November 22.

The observation mission noted the “highly polarized” election atmosphere in the country, documenting complaints from the political opposition about incumbent presidential candidate Mikheil Saakashvili’s alleged abuse of administrative resources and pressure on state employees, as well as government accusations that the opposition plan to protest the results of the election regardless of whether it is conducted democratically.

The OSCE report also noted accounts of regional authorities recording data from voters’ ID cards without explanation. Georgians will be able to register as voters on Election Day by presenting their ID and proof of residence, a provision which a PACE monitoring committee earlier warned was a possible “avenue for electoral fraud,” but “reluctantly accepted” as necessary. Opposition campaigners say the harvesting of ID data may be done to help Saakashvili supporters vote multiple times on January 5.

Georgia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) was the target of the report’s clearest rebukes. In one instance, the CEC decided there was no violation of campaign laws when the Tbilisi mayor and a government minister joined Saakashvili for a campaign rally in Tbilisi City Hall.

CEC officials have variously justified their decision by stating the mayor and minister did not make any campaign speeches at the rally; that Saakashvili had not been registered as a presidential candidate by the date of the rally; or that the two officials did not qualify as “public servants.”

The OSCE report points out, however, that the law defines “public servants” as all officials, politically appointed or otherwise, working in public service.

The report also contradicts another CEC ruling. CEC officials responded to at least two complaints of Saakashvili’s campaign abusing administrative resources by stating that, as Saakashvili has stepped down from the presidency and now holds no office, it would not be illegal for his campaign to benefit from administrative resources.

The law, according to the OSCE report, forbids the use of state resources for any election campaign, regardless of whether the candidate holds political office.

The report also acknowledges the controversial closure of Imedi TV, which returned to the air December 12, more than a month after it was raided by special forces troops for alleging inciting the overthrow of the state on November 7. The report observes that other networks broadcast similar statements and coverage that day, but without similar consequences.

The OSCE is now monitoring all major television networks, and will release its findings in upcoming reports.

No government officials were available for comment. Conservative MP Kakha Kukava of the opposition coalition, reached for comment Sunday evening, said his group was still preparing a statement on the report.