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The Venice Commission and the opposition: different visions of democratic processes in Georgia

By Messenger Staff
Monday, October 31
Venice Commission members have already commented on some issues of the Georgian election code. There are differences between their vision and that of Georgian opposition parties, while the ruling authorities try to comfort themselves, believing they meet European election standards.

Initially, the Georgian ruling authorities agreed on election code rules with some of the opposition parties. However in the final version it omitted items the opposition believed important. This caused discontent and made negotiations difficult with the opposition participants. To settle this dispute Venice Commission members visited Georgia at the end of October, and on 16-17 December at the Venice Commission plenary session, the final conclusions will be adopted. Until that date the Georgian Parliament will not discuss the issue.

The Georgian opposition hopes that the West will force Georgian authorities to adopt a mutually acceptable code. Specific issues which cause opposition dissatisfaction include the composition of voter lists which--according to the opposition--are full of so-called “dead souls” (deceased citizens) which will permit the ruling power to organize illegal “election carrousels” where one and the same person can cast votes several times under different names.

To avoid such manipulations the opposition is desperately trying to check voters’ lists. To compensate for the lack of updated lists they also insist on installing video surveillance at the polling stations and using special marking liquid to identify those who have already voted.

However, the ruling administration in the final version of the election code struck out certain items. For instance, there would be no marking of persons who have already voted, no video surveillance in the polling stations, and no figures would be available giving the total number of the voters. In addition, the ruling authorities ignored the demand of the opposition parties to introduce biometric IDs for voters.

By stressing such discrepancies in the election code, the Georgian opposition members hoped the Venice Commission would reject the Government's draft proposal. However, their hopes were dashed, as the Venice Commission did not support video surveillance in the polling stations, explaining that voters could be influenced against expressing their genuine will. The Venice Commission also did not agree that marking voters with a special liquid would be practical, as it would create extra problems for the electoral process. The Commission pointed out that marking and video surveillance would not be necessary if biometric IDs were used--however this process is long-term and unlikely to be achieved for the 2012 Parliamentary elections.

Although opposition members tried to argue the necessity of video surveillance and marking procedures the Europeans judged according to their own standards, which are based on complete and clear voter lists--which is unfortunately not the case in Georgia. On the other hand the Commission insisted on introducing other changes they saw as necessary for a more democratic process. These include allowing voting rights to convicts who have committed less severe crimes and increasing the number of female candidates for Parliament.

Some opposition members conclude that instead of improving the election code, the Venice Commission has decreased the democratic processes in Georgia, according to the leader of Georgian Troupe Jondi Bagaturia. Some recommendations, however, could improve the election environment, for example the Commission recommendations not to allow the Governors of different regions to participate in the electoral processes or to allow Government companies to finance elections. All final decisions will be announced only in mid-December.