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President forms task force to tackle election concerns

By Shorena Labadze
Wednesday, April 2
The president announced a task force to serve as a go-to point for election issues in the lead-up to the May parliamentary elections.

Announcing the group at a meeting with the diplomatic corps on March 31, President Mikheil Saakashvili said it’s fully in the interests of the Georgian government to conduct democratic parliamentary elections.

But opposition politicians questioned the government’s sincerity in tackling election problems.

“A group like this was also formed before the presidential elections, but was there any success?” asked Davit Usupashvili, a leader of the moderate Republicans.

Usupashvili said the opposition handed the previous group “a 15-page list” of election irregularities to address.

“Four months have passed and there has been no answer,” he said.

Government representatives declined to comment.

The eight-person group, dubbed the inter-agency task force for free and fair elections, is composed of top officials including the justice minister and state minister for regional issues.

According to the president’s website, it will coordinate responses to election problems at the executive level, act as a single point of contact for election issues and discuss recommendations on improving election processes.

“This group has a very specific function: they have to discover, solve and eliminate every single [election-related] problem connected to the regulatory sphere, together with the diplomatic corps and all international and domestic observers,” Saakashvili said.

The group officially begins work today.

The OSCE/ODIHR observer mission’s final report on the January presidential election judged the poll essentially democratic, but highlighted many irregularities and gaps in legislation.

Observers found widespread problems with vote tallying and criticized the Central Election Commission and the courts for not properly considering complaints.

Opposition politicians alleged the vote was rigged to hand Saakashvili a second term.

The OSCE mission issued a list of recommendations to improve election conduct, some of which have been met by legislative changes.