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Nongovernmental organizations assess the Pre-Election Environment in the country

By Ana Robakidze
Monday, October 1
Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia), together with Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) and International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) issued a joint paper assessing the current pre-election environment in the country.

The report is mainly focused on the UNM and Georgian Dream Coalition; these two are the most supported parties in the country. The paper covers the following key issues related to the election campaign: legislative changes to the benefit of the ruling party; aggressive and polarized campaigns; abuse of state power for political purposes; pressure on the opposition; and the media environment.

Despite the fact that the new election code adopted at the end of 2011 brought changes to the rules of governing the financial accountability and transparency of political parties, the reformation of the electoral system has been criticized in the report. “The full control of the Parliament has allowed the UNM to use legislative processes to further their own electoral benefit rather than to aim for a truly fair and competitive electoral environment,” the paper reads.

In 2011, the parliament issued amendments to increase rather than decrease the donation ceiling. However, as soon as Bidzina Ivanishvili got involved in politics against the ruling party, parliament instantly initiated new amendments to the rule that “lead to a significant tightening of party financing rules.” Implementing new rules was followed by several sanctions applied on the Georgia Dream Coalition by the State Audit Office. The paper accused the state audit agency in applying the law selectively and imposing disproportionately, severe sanctions on the Georgian Dream coalition.

What NGOs have found very disturbing is the polarized campaign accompanied by the use of public sector employees for electoral purposes (the paper states that many employees of governmental entities have been under pressure to participate in and support campaign efforts of the ruling party), also campaign motivated spending (of state budget money), government advertising campaigns and the revocation of Ivanishvili’s citizenship. TI Georgia and its partner NGOs have found all these to be an abuse of state power for political purposes.

As paper reads, the Georgian opposition has been under a lot of pressure during the election campaign. Several actions have been taken against Ivanishvili's corporate interests, like detaining 3.3 million in cash which belonged to his Cartu Bank. Also, in June 2012, the court fined Ivanishvili a total of GEL 148,650,131, as a decision stated he had made illegal donations in favor of his party.

TI Georgia, GYLA and ISFED also focus their attention on numerous cases of intimidation of opposition activists. The paper reports that they (TI Georgia, GYLA and ISFED) have “documented at least 207 cases of alleged intimidation of opposition activists by individuals affiliated with the government or the UNM, ranging from ‘friendly advice’ to actual harassment. In more than 60 cases, opposition supporters, their relatives and civic activists were arrested and detained by police, in 11 cases the NGOs learned of significant political pressure on the businesses of opposition party members and supporters.”

While assessing the current media environment, the paper underlines the importance of must-carry (requiring cable TV companies to include all stations with news in their packages) and must-offer (requiring TV stations to allow all cable and satellite operators to transmit their signal) regulations, so viewers could have easy access to critical TV channels. However, new regulations on imposing limits on filming inside the polling station is not much approved by the organizations, as “it might limit their ability to document problems and procedural violations.”

“The elections of October 1st will be the most important parliamentary election since Georgia’s independence. The new parliament will select the new prime minister, after a constitutional change takes effect with the end of President Mikheil Saakashvili’s term in 2013. A lot is at stake as Georgia has yet to see a full transfer of power through the ballot box.” However, NGOs regret that there has not been much improvement to the pre-election environment compared to previous elections the country.