The messenger logo

New CEC Law Amid Western Criticism

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Tuesday, February 27, 2024
On February 20, in the third reading, the Parliament adopted the law regarding the staffing of the CEC administration, while not taking into account the recommendations of the Venice Commission. The leaders of the Georgian Dream announce that they are creating the CEC, which will be staffed by professionals, and a 'politics-free' election administration will be created.

According to the opposition, according to the adopted law, the CEC will be staffed by only one ruling party, which questions the confidence in the institution and, accordingly, the results of the elections announced by it will be low.

The Georgian Dream justifies the introduction of a new rule for the formation of the election administration by the fact that Georgia is creating the same election administration and regulations that exist in democratic countries and are in line with the practice of European countries.

The opposition does not trust those in power and the election administration staffed by the government. That's why in the three decades since the dismantling of the Soviet regime, they generally agreed on the principle that the CEC should be staffed by party representatives and that no party, including the ruling party, should have the opportunity to make decisions alone.

Therefore, everyone should be represented in the Central Election Commission on a parity basis. However, it should also be said that the party in power always managed to violate the principle of parity representation of parties in the CEC and gain an advantage. It was like this during Shevardnadze's time, it was like this during Saakashvili's time, and today's opposition perceives the situation like this.

None of the opposition parties trusted the results of the 2020 parliamentary elections and refused to enter the parliament. Charles Michel's visits to Georgia played a big role in easing the crisis and contributed to the legitimization of the Georgian Dream. Then, on April 19, 2021, an agreement was signed between the Georgian Dream and the opposition, which also related to the formation of the election administration.

According to the document, there should be 8 professional and 9 party members in the Central Election Commission. Professional members are elected by 2/3 of the votes of the full composition of the Parliament (that is, with the participation of the opposition), the deputy chairman of the CEC must be a representative of the opposition party.

The Georgian Dream began to dismantle this rule after announcing the annulment of the agreement known as Charles Michel. Since then, changes have been made several times, the essence of which is the exclusion of the role of the president and the opposition in the formation of the CEC. The prerogative of submitting nominations for the CEC chairman and CEC members to the parliament was transferred to the chairman of the parliament instead of the president. The chairman of the Parliament will announce the competition for the selection of the chairman and members of the CEC and create the competition commission.

The amendments adopted by the Parliament on February 20 envisage the cancellation of the position of the deputy chairman of the CEC elected by the opposition quota. Until now, the CEC chairman had two deputies, one was appointed on professional grounds and the other was selected by the opposition. The Georgian Dream refuses the deputy selected by the opposition.

The procedure for electing the CEC chairman has been changed once again. The chairman of the CEC should be elected for 5 years with 90 votes, if that fails, then 76 votes will be enough. The Georgian Dream cannot collect 90 votes, but it really has 76 votes to elect the chairman of the CEC.

The Georgian Dream states that the opposition, which supports the preservation of the old rule, wants to preserve the 'political leverage' of interfering in the activities of the CEC, and according to the opposition, the ruling party is trying to establish complete control over the CEC.

President Salome Zurabishvili vetoed the amendments to the election code adopted by the parliament. According to the president, with the mentioned changes, the process of staffing the CEC has become completely fictitious and is adjusted only to the political interests of the ruling party. According to the president, there is a risk that "elections will be conducted by a one-party, biased and ruling party-controlled election administration, and this will lead to mistrust in the process both in society and in the international community."

A presidential veto will only temporarily delay the passage of the law. The Georgian Dream can overcome the President's veto. The President and the opposition note that the changes made by the ruling majority contradict the conclusion of the Venice Commission, which advises the Georgian government to protect the Charles Michel Agreement. And one of the 9 recommendations of the European Union, which indicates the need to hold fair elections.

It is worth noting that the Parliament adopted the amendments to the Election Code on the very day when Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili was on a visit to Brussels, where he was once again emphasised that the prospects of Georgia's integration into the European Union depend on the fair conduct of the parliamentary elections on October 26, 2024.

Why does the Georgian Dream go to an open confrontation with Western recommendations? The opposition believes that the ruling political power is afraid of the upcoming elections and therefore tries to ensure control over the CEC. They also paid attention to the fact that the Georgian Dream is talking about getting 60% of the votes and constitutional majority in the parliament in connection with the upcoming elections. The Georgian Dream does not have the real resources to achieve this, if we consider the pre-election ratings.