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New Election Code: Ambiguous and Manipulative

By Messenger Staff
Friday, September 30
Georgian politicians are getting ready for a parliamentary debate over the new proposed election code. The ruling majority submitted the new draft code covering 140 pages to the parliament. Presumably, the debate will start when the conclusion from the Venice Commission - the international body reviewing the code is received.

The process of writing the draft has become increasingly controversial as some opposition entities engaged in the writing and thought that they had introduced certain vitally important amendments to the elections code to create a fairer political environment. Then, however, the ruling administration went ahead and submitted a completely different draft from the one agreed with key omissions. It appears that in this draft there were many items which had not been discussed with the opposition parties at all. There has simply been an intensive exploitation of administrative resources by the ruling party to adopt its own version of the draft a draft which analysts believe will not solve any of the problematic issues of the past. In this draft there is no indication of restrictions on the interference of law enforcement bodies in the election process, nothing is mentioned about addressing media bias and the new draft was submitted to the parliament without prior discussion of these issues at the drafting editorial board which consisted of the representatives of both ruling power and certain opposition entities.

The opposition claims that all this shows that the ruling administration is getting ready to manipulate the elections. The new draft envisages the removal of CCTV from polling stations as well as canceling the idea of putting special liquid on the fingers of the voters so that they would be recognized and not able to vote several times.

Cynics suggest these steps were taken by the ruling majority to further secure electoral victory and decrease detection of violations by observers or representatives of opposition groups. Independent analysts also think that these steps are obviously serving ruling party interests.

There is one further change which will consider decisions at previous referendums and plebiscites annulled and introduce new rules and regulations for these. These manipulations have clearly been brought in to ignore the decision of a 2003 referendum which fixed the number of the MPs at 150. As is now well-known, during the next elections, according to the new draft, there will be 190 MPs.

On the other hand, the new election code does also envisage a GEL 1 mln grant to those parties who overcome the 5% barrier and qualify for parliament. This money should be spent on campaigning. While this appears a positive step to creating a multi-party democracy it is actually a rather hollow gesture given the control of media and in particular TV by the authorities. The sleights of hand and cunning shown over these issues by the government are most likely just the beginning of the possible surprises the ruling administration might produce in the run up to the election period.