Some Changes to Electoral Code Made without Consensus
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, September 23
After initiating a new election code for parliament, those opposition parties who agreed to negotiations with the authorities regarding the issue and drafted the new code with majority representatives, have now discovered that there are omissions and additions that were not agreed to. The draft, delivered to the Venice Commission for recommendations, apparently contains parts that the majority and opposition members had not reached consensus on. As the representatives of opposition Christian Democrats state, the editorial group (uniting opposition and majority representatives working on the election code) might now be dissolved.
“It might happen if the government continues making decisions without consulting the members of the group,“ a member of the Christian-Democrats, Levan Vepkhvadze, said. According to him, the government has to explain why the election draft includes issues that were not discussed and agreed on, "they have written a number of issues into that were not agreed by the group, like the removal of video cameras from election stations, the remove of marking people [with ink to ensure one vote per person] and the growth in power of the Central Election Chair and so on.”
A representative of the New Rights party, Mamuka Katsitadze, does not intend “to change the achieved agreements with the authorities about video cameras.” He accused the majority party of lying and misleading international community by removing some of the elements demanded by that community. Furthermore, the New Rights will move to tell the experts of the Venice Commission that their demands were misused by the current Georgian leadership. “A lot of the issues agreed within the group, which were reflected in the draft carries great importance and should not be put under a question mark. These agreements will improve the election environment; but not make it ideal.”
The ruling United National Movement party did not deny that there were some points in the draft, which were not agreed with the opposition, “those changes are the position of the National Movement and we will present them next week and discuss them with the opposition and the non government sector,“ Pavle Kublashvili said and made a brief explanation why the changes had been put in the draft. “It was the international community’s recommendation that video cameras not be in election stations, as it might violate human rights. Information on voters’ presence or non presence at elections should not be known.” Removal of marking voters with ink was connected by Kublashvili with the recommendation of NGOs: “NGOs frequently stated that the marking procedure was an additional complication of the process.” He has also said that in case the opposition and NGOs had a different attitude concerning marking voters then the issue would be rechecked.
Unlike those opposition parties which are negotiating with the authorities a greater part of the opposition did not share the aspiration to work with the government to improve the election environment. “In reality, it is not a new election code, it is practically identical to the old one," Irakli Chikovani, member of Our Georgia-Free Democrats told The Messenger.
The analyst Kakha Kakhishvili agrees. According to him, the authorities made an unexpected decision when they presented the new election code consisting of 19 chapters and 185 articles, “as there were agreements only on some changes and additions to the current election code.” The main reason for removing the marking procedure according to the analyst was a lot of appeals regarding the issue. “We should recognize that the project did not work properly. We had no information about where the authorities would buy the liquid for the procedure and there were a number of technical shortcomings regarding the issue, sometimes the marking equipment gets spoiled and it creates obstacles for the voting process. After the removal of marking, the number of appeals will decrease.”
The analyst paid attention to issues which might be “dangerous”. As he stated, based on the draft, political parties which overcome the 5% threshold will be given GEL 1,000,000 from the state budget, GEL 300,000 from this amount would be used for covering TV pre-election expenses. “It is written that the money must be used only for TV expenses and not for printed media, it means that the GEL 300,000 will mainly enter government controlled media. There is a second issue as well. Parties overcome the threshold and get that sum from the state budget, however in case they fail to do so they will face serious problems, as they will have no money to cover those expenses, or will have to find some other ways.” The analyst also suggests that the draft does not foresee the existence of independent majoritarian candidates. The candidacy of a majoritarian must be named by a party, “I think that the Venice Commission will have different attitude regarding this issue” Kakhishvili said.