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CEC Chair must be elected on Thursday

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, January 13
At their meeting with the President in Batumi on January 11 NGOs named fourteen possible candidates for Chair of the Central Election Commission (CEC) but Mikheil Saakashvili did not choose the three he will present to the opposition members of the CEC for election.

The candidates nominated by NGOs for the President to select from under the terms of the new election code were: outgoing CEC Chair Levan Tarkhnishvili, nominated by think tank the Liberty Institute; Professor Davit Aprasidze from Ilia Chavchavadze University; journalist Davit Paichadze; Eka Siradze, the Executive Director of election watchdog the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), who was nominated by a group of 11 NGOs; Zurab Chiaberashvili, Georgia’s Ambassador to the Council of Europe, a previous CEC Chair; Otar Sichinava, a judge of the Constitutional Court; Levan Bezhashvili, head of the state audit agency, the Chamber of Control; Archil Mikeladze, Chairman of the Adjara Autonomous Republic CEC; Sergo Ratiani, head of the Ilia Chavchavadze University’s administration; Kakha Sopromadze, who served with ISFED for many years; Zurab Kharatishvili, a member of a group within the CEC monitoring political parties’ election expenses at the 2008 elections; Ramaz Bedianidze and Irakli Kipshidze, formerly with the NGO new Generation-new Initiative (nGnI) and Gia Jandieri, Vice-President of the Tbilisi-based think tank New Economic School. It was confirmed late on January 12 that the President has nominated Otar Sichinava, Zurab Kharatishvili and Levan Tarkhnishvili. The opposition members of the CEC must elect one of these three as its Chair.

Legally the President had until January 8 to announce the three candidates he would present for election, however he missed this deadline and applied to Parliament for a further prolongation of it. The Juridical Committee of the Parliament amended the election code for this reason, stating that the whole process must be completed by January 14. It is important that the President make his decision promptly to leave enough time for opposition members of the CEC to fully discuss the candidates he will present, said the opposition members, who expressed their irritation at the President's initial failure to meet the deadline and his request to prolong it at the Juridical Committee meeting.

“The fact that the law has been broken should be given juridical assessment, but the process of electing the CEC Chair and three other members of it should not be derailed because of this and amendments in the election code were thus needed,” Guram Chakhvadze, member of the National Democrats, said. Independent MP Gia Tsagareishvili said that "amendments will be made in the election code, as the most important thing at present is electing an appropriate and independent CEC Chair, but this failure to keep to the law is very rare in democratic countries.” Government members however do not regard the law violation as important. "The main thing is that this process is very transparent, NGOs participate in it and the results will be acceptable for all sides,” Akaki Minashvili stated.

As not much time was left the opposition met the 14 candidates nominated by the NGOs earlier on January 12 before the three selected were announced. At a meeting at the Hotel Davit opposition representatives discussed the various candidacies and mentioned the importance of such a meeting. "Opposition CEC members should have sufficient information about the candidates and their past and present activities. This meeting will enable us to elect an appropriate candidate as CEC Chair,” Gocha Jojua, from Christian Democrats, stated.

Kakha Kukava, from the Conservative Party, said that much depends on the future CEC head. "The opposition should be well prepared in order to make the right decision and that is why this meeting is so important. One of the main guarantees of free elections is the CEC Chair and we should get to know all the candidacies presented by NGOs better,” Kukava suggested.