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European observers say election marked "progress"

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, June 1
On May 31 international observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) and the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities released a joint statement regarding the local elections held on May 30. This said that the municipal elections in Georgia marked evident progress towards meeting international standards, but significant shortcomings remain to be addressed.

According to the statement, though the election administration organised elections in a transparent and professional manner systemic irregularities were observed on the day of vote in some regions, including several cases of ballot box stuffing and procedural violations during the vote count. “The observers also noted deficiencies in the legal framework and its implementation, and characterised the campaign environment as an uneven playing field favouring contestants from the incumbent party,” the statement says.

"These elections were marked by clear improvements and efforts by the authorities to address problems occurring during the process. It is now time to fix the remaining shortcomings and take effective steps to prevent electoral malpractices before the next elections at the national level,” Ambassador Audrey Glover, head of the OSCE/ODIHR long-term election observation mission, said.

"The municipal councils, the Mayors and - more specifically - the directly elected Mayor of Tbilisi have now to solve the social and economic problems of the country which are serious. From the perspective of locally elected representatives, responsible regional stability policies are key in this respect. The Congress is ready to accompany and assist Georgia in this direction, in particular with regard to the development of local democracy and citizens' participation," said Gunther Krug, Head of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities delegation.

"Strong democracy is built from the local level upwards so we were particularly pleased to see the high level of engagement and interest of young people, women and minorities in these elections. We hope that, as shortcomings are addressed and confidence develops, many of them will move from involvement in the process to be the candidates of the future," said Sharon Taylor, spokesperson of the Congress delegation.

The statement pointed out that the Unified Election Code (UEC) had been substantially amended in December 2009 to address some previous recommendations made by the OSCE/ODIHR, Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. The code as amended is generally adequate for "the conduct of democratic elections; however, a number of significant shortcomings remain. These include limitations on voting and candidacy rights and an election system which does not guarantee the equality of the vote. Provisions which allow unlimited campaigning by certain public officials and the use of administrative resources for campaign purposes do not guarantee a level playing field for all contestants," the statement says.

The statement says that the campaign took place in a mostly calm environment and candidates were able to campaign and assemble freely. According to the report there was a strong focus on the race for Mayor of Tbilisi and campaign activity outside the capital was more limited.

Asked whether these elections were free and fair, Ambassador Glover said at a press conference that the OSCE no longer used assessments like “free and fair” when evaluating elections, because such a description was not precise and did not help countries learn how to improve elections in the future. Instead OSCE assesses elections against the commitments of OSCE and the Council of Europe and also national legislation, she said. “That is a better way, we think, of assessing an election,” she said.