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Kharatishvili is new CEC Chair despite opposition boycott

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, January 18
Zurab Kharatishvili was elected Chair of the Central Election Commission (CEC) by Parliament on January 15. However most opposition parties have already accused him of being connected with the Government and stated that free elections are not therefore expected in Georgia. Government members, in return, have called the opposition's attitude and steps irresponsible.

Parliament elected Kharatishvili for a five year term after the CEC opposition members refused to electing the new Chair, saying that all the candidates presented are related to the Government and thus the election had no meaning. Kharatishvili, a member of the Georgian Public Broadcaster’s Board of Trustees since February, 2008, was among the three candidates nominated by the President. The other two were Constitutional Court judge Otar Sichinava and Levan Tarkhnishvili, CEC Chair since October 2007. Tarkhnishvili, withdrew his candidacy just before the vote, stating that he could not continue working with the opposition members of CEC as they were following their respective party lines instead of acting as impartial election officials.

The opposition parties have already expressed their negative attitude towards the new CEC Chair. The Republican Party has said that "Kharatishvili has been elected only because he is associated with the Interior Minister, Vano Merabishvili, and was thus an absolutely acceptable candidate for the Government." The Labour Party, in a special briefing on January 16, said, "We thought that the Government would do its best to falsify the elections, that is why we asked for them to be held under UN aegis, but unfortunately this has not been achieved. Now the Government has its representative in CEC, Zurab Kharatishvili, and the elections will be easily falsified,” Soso Shatberashvili said.

Jondi Baghaturia (leader of Georgian Troupe) and Paata Davitaia (leader of We Ourselves) from the Parliamentary minority refused to participate in the Parliamentary vote on who the next CEC Chair would be, stating that the process no longer had any meaning. "I have no personal negative attitude towards any of the candidates presented, but when they are all related to the Government participation in this process is pointless,” Baghaturia said. However, Parliamentary majority members have stated that all the relevant procedures had been conducted lawfully. "We gave the opposition the opportunity to elect the candidate they wanted, but they refused, which is an irresponsible attitude. The opposition cannot fulfil their responsibilities,” Pavle Kublashvili said. Goka Gabashvili said that the opposition had shown their true face. "The public has seen that the opposition cannot make decisions; they are incapable of doing this. Now they are trying to justify their actions by spreading rumours about the CEC Chair,” Gabashvili stated.

On January 15 Parliament also elected three ordinary members of the CEC. Gizo Mchedlidze, who has been a member of CEC and its Secretary since 2005, was re-elected and will be joined by Tamaz Sharmanashvili, previously Deputy Chair of the Election Commission of the Adjara Autonomous Republic and Konstantine Kirvalidze, an aide to ruling party lawmaker Pavle Kublashvili.