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Code of conduct not enough to keep Georgian politicians in line

Tuesday, April 15

This election campaign will not be a mild one, but Washington’s National Democratic Institute for International Affairs is trying to improve the climate by encouraging political parties to sign a code of conduct.

The contract leaves it up to signatories to punish breaches, which would include any abuse of journalists, xenophobic language, pressuring voters and meddling in opponents’ rallies.

But with politicians of all stripes warning of revolutions and tossing around criminal slander like yesterday’s garbage, this code of conduct is like bailing out a sinking lifeboat with a tablespoon.

Political discourse is crude in Georgia, but the problem isn’t simple name-calling and shoving—the emergency here is that most opposition politicians do not recognize the government as legitimate. That’s a large gap to bridge, no matter how much politicians promise to pull their rhetorical punches.

The ruling party, which long employed blockheaded alpha males as aggressive PR hacks, is making a show of promising to abide by the code of conduct and infuse some civility into Georgian politics. But even good intentions will be derailed when the opposition go on the attack, and taking the high road in response looks like arrogance, not prudence.

NDI’s code of conduct will be for show; with the courts lacking legitimate authority, only voters can punish politicians who breach public norms. Yet with more basic arguments left to settle, it will be awhile before Georgians can demand responsible campaigning.