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Election reform -the reality and recommendations

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, February 1
Recommendations and the prospects of election reform were discussed on January 30th at the Radisson Blue Iveria Hotel. Present were members of various international organizations, Georgian officials, minority and civil society representatives. The meeting was dedicated to discussing recommendations made by the OSCE/ODIHR after the 2012 parliamentary elections. The meeting was organized by the United Nationals Development Programme (UNDP) and OSCE/ODIHR. The EU provided financial assistance for the meeting.

Nikolai Vulchanov, former head of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission, presented OSCE/ODHR's recommendations. One of the main recommendations by the OSCE/ODHR is that all electoral districts should have roughly the same population. Currently many electoral districts differ wildly from one another in terms of the number of voters.

The recommendations relate to the elections lists as well. The OSCE appealed to the State Register Agency to work with some other institutions for the formation of complete and flexible voters’ lists.

“The organization also suggests that law-enforcement agents and soldiers vote like ordinary citizens without allocating special election districts for them.” Vulchanov said.

OSCE also focused attention on the various political parties' financing and recommended legislative changes concerning this issue. After carrying out the changes, the organization recommends that political candidates be given special training so that they are aware of legal issues concerning campaign financing.

Part of the OSCE's recommendations concerned specification of the duties of the State Audit Agency.

“The recommendations also contain the suggestion that state officials be prohibited from taking part in election campaigning and an increase of Must Carry availability,” Vulchanov stated. The recommendations also stressed the importance of making Adjara TV a public broadcaster. OSCE also recommends that Central Election Commission (CEC) representatives and observers be given appropriate training.

Head of the European delegation to Georgia Philip Dimitrov focused attention on a strong civil society and NGOs' active involvement during the working process on new election legislation.

Parliamentary chairman and Georgian Dream member Davit Usupashvili stated that there are many shortcomings concerning the election code before promising that work on this issue has already been launched.

“A multi-party group is being created where members of the coalition and the UNM will work together. I think that by 2014 we will have appropriate election legislation,” Usupashvili stated.

Georgian Dream member Davit Berdzenishvili stressed that his party has its priorities but promised that all comments from his colleagues will be discussed.

“I think that if all 150 MPs are elected through a regional-proportional system the problem of big and small election districts as well as problems regarding party lists will be removed.” Berdzenishvili stated. He then added that introducing biometric voter ID cards will eliminate voter list problems.

Minority MP Pavle Kublashvili claimed that the former government has always taken into account OSCE/ODIHR recommendations.

“That is why the elections held within our ruling period were recognized as fair. There are conclusions by foreign organizations that prove that the UNM government took their remarks into account,” Kublashvili said.

Head of the Central Election Commission Zurab Kharatishvli stressed that the CEC did its best during the 2012 parliamentary elections and was highly assessed by OSCE. Kharatishvili added that the new Georgian government has made some mistakes concerning electoral reform.

According to Kharatishvili changes to the Adjara Supreme Election Commission were adopted hastily and under pressure from Georgian Dream member and Parliamentary Vice-Speaker Murman Dumbadze.

UNDP Project Manager Tamar Zhvania introduced recommendations collected from 14 Georgian District Election Commissions (DEC). These recommendations range from perfecting voters’ lists, changing the majoritarian candidate system, the creation of a professional DEC staff and the creation of a database of trained individuals who could be used for election monitoring, etc. According to Zhvania the DEC also recommended that appropriate fines for election campaign violations be established and appealed to religious leaders to refrain from making political statements.

The NGOs the Georgian Younger Lawyers' Association, TI Georgia and ISFED stressed that the Georgian election system faces two major problems- electoral districts and voters’ lists. According to the NGO's electoral districts are very uneven in terms of constituents and redrawing districts so they are roughly proportional in population is a major necessary change. Regarding the voter lists the NGOs proposed a detailed national census and the introduction of biometric voter IDs. They emphasized that the election system should ensure a multitude of political parties in the legislative body.