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Debate Continues on Election Code

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, December 14
Those parliamentary opposition parties which took the government's suggestions regarding the election code, signed an agreement with the ruling party and stated that this was the only sensible way to deal with the issue, now claim that the authorities have violated the agreement.

Some changes which would be reflected in the new election code are either unknown or unacceptable for the parliamentary minority. For example, ”based on the agreement, the upper level of donation from legal entities would be increased to GEL 200,000, however, currently, legal entities are unable to make any donation. At the same time, we do not support the idea of increasing the number of MPs,” member of Christian – Democrats, Levan Vepkhvadze, said. As he mentioned, the first agreement was violated by the authorities, and the second one is under debate. ”When we supported the idea of increasing the MPs it was a compromise from our side for smaller opposition parties, if they could not guess this, then we would not have supported the issue in parliament,” Vepkvadze stated while discussing the election code draft in the parliament.

Moreover, new additions may be added to the draft. The majority party who claims that all the main changes are being carried out either on international advice or based on agreement with the opposition, seems to be ready for some serious changes, especially regarding the financing of political parties.

It is not known if legal entities would be prohibited from assisting political parties, however some restrictions are to be set on legal and physical entities “for more transparency.” More concretely, fixed membership fees and donations from physical entitles were one of the main issues during the first day of discussion in parliament. The limit of annual membership fees should not be more than GEL 1,200. At the same time, physical entities will not be able to allocate more than a fixed sum for his or her favorite party or parties. Thus, the authors of the draft who are members of the ruling party have made a proposal that a limit be set for any person who allocates a sum to more than one party or bloc of parties. ”If several parties are united and for example create a bloc for the elections, the limit might be ignored, that is why the limit is to be set on any person who makes a donation,” said code's drafters. Such donors can donate a maximum of GEL 60,000 to a party or parties, if he or she decides to donate to several parties, then the total annual sum must not be more than GEL 60,000. At the same time donations should be made by the only clear way - through banks.

Based on one more change, political parties will be able to receive credit from commercial banks and an upper limit for this sum is GEL 100,000 a year. There is one more change regarding the checking of money as financial transparency of the parties will be checked by the Chamber of Control.

The majority representatives claim that all the changes serve to create a better election code and at the same time they mention that the agreements have already been achieved with the opposition. Thus, as was mentioned by the majority representative Goka Gabashvili, "rechecking some decisions are less possible.”

There is also a different view, basically voiced by the non parliamentary opposition, that certain changes to the election code, especially those ones concerning financing of parties, were imposed due to the Georgian billionaire, Bidzina Ivanishvili’s, arrival in the political arena, however this view is not shared by the Christian Democrats. Despite the fact that the Christian Democrats were discontent regarding prohibition on legal entities financing parties, they mentioned that “mainly the ruling party used such donations, whereas opposition parties are getting assistance mainly from physical entities.”

Based on analyst Levan Alapishvili, there is nothing special in political parties financial activities to be checked by the Chamber of Control, as this would have been done by private companies earlier – "if the Chamber of Control checks political parties, some questions regarding the impartiality of the chamber might arise and all this might have a negative effect on the reputation of Chamber of Control.” As for the connection of the changes with the Ivanishvili factor, the analyst refrained from making any comment.

As analyst Gia Khukhashvili told The Messenger “all the financial changes in the election code is brought about due to the Ivanishvili factor.” Khukhashvili underlined that a month ago the authorities had an absolutely different approach regarding party financing issues and after, Ivanishvili appeared they began to try to close the ways for him to be involved. As for the election code in general, the analyst considers that it is “less than trusted and less than oriented to real changes.”