TBILISI, DFWatch – The Venice Commission has asked the government to change the proposed new Electoral Code, after going through all the issues envisaged in the proposed new law, both things that were agreed with the opposition and the ruling party’s eleventh-hour “surprises”.

Council of Europe envoys made their critical stance clear at a special briefing help by the CoE’s Venice Commission and the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) while delegates were visiting here in Tbilisi.

The Venice Commission and ODIHR delegation headed by Tomas Markert has been holding meetings for two days with government, opposition and representatives of civil society.

According to Markert, the aim of these meetings was to clarify all the issues in connection with the proposed new election law and getting familiar with various stakeholders’ ideas and positions. This project has been sent for final review at the Venice Commission at the end of August 2011 and the government promises not to begin to review the new law until the commission punlishes its final conclusion.

Tomas Markert notes that the Venice Commission and OSCE will publish its conclusion by the middle of December. The report will be approved at a meeting the Venice Commission is to have on 16-17 December. But according to him, they already have some opinions and they hope that their remarks will be anticipated and the law proposal that was sent to the commission will be changed.

The Venice Commission expert focused on the fact that the project did not reflect previously made remarks made by observers; including prisoners’ right to vote; about an independent candidate and increasing the number of women in parliament.

The commission also made remarks regarding the issues that were called a reform during agreement with the opposition. These include the electoral system as well as usage of administrative resources in the election campaign and party funding.

Tomas Markert notes that the main problem with the electoral system is the vote-weight problem and an issue, reflected in the proposed new law, which implies partitioning large voting districts – it partly deals the problem, but cannot fully solve it.

So in this direction, Markert considers insufficient the idea to divide several districts and create ten new single-mandate districts.

He also criticized the issue of the rights for the enterprises, set up by state share, to donate in Electoral Funds. This initiative got into the project without agreeing with the opposition.

But later Pavle Kublashvili, chairman of Parliament’s Judiciary Committee stated that such companies will no longer have this right.

The Venice commission considers it unacceptable that governors will have the right to participate in the election campaign. This is also something included without agreeing with opposition.

The Venice Commission experts hope that Georgian Government won’t allow the governors to be involved in the election campaign and there will be ‘different position in the legislation, than it is today.’

But the ruling party considers that the governors should have the right to participate in the campaign; because they are political officials and accordingly they have rights to be involved in the political process, Pavle Kublashvili thinks.

The Venice Commission is unfamiliar with the government’s idea about prohibiting legal entities to finance political parties.

Georgian Ministry of Justice had presented this idea to the non-governmental sector few days ago. But after, when the commotions broke out, the government had been stating that the idea is not formed as a project yet.

Tomas Markert explains that there is no practice in this direction in the European countries and separate countries can set up such prohibitions.

For the long term, Tomas Markert considers it the best solution that biometric data is used in the election to identify voters.

When it comes to the proposal to stop using video surveillance at precincts to deter fraud, The Venice Commission has been mindful of the problem that cameras could make voters uncomfortable, according to Markert. He also adds that there has been problems in connection with finger marking process for a long time; so he thinks that there should be found some other way to solve the problem of checking who has voted.

The Venice Commission delegation underlines that this is only the initial assessment and that a thorough analysis will be published by mid-December.