TBILISI, DFWatch – As less than a year is left until Georgians will go to the polls again, the government should have been moving ahead with a commission to go through the electoral roll, following a rush law amendment, but as of now the commission has not yet been set up.
To have such a commission was part an agreement struck between the Government and part of the opposition last summer, which marked the start of a process to overhaul the whole election system in Georgia ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections in the next two years.
A draft was sent to the Venice Commission for final review in the end of August, and the Council of Europe body will give its verdict on the plan December 16 or 17, according to Venice Commission chairman Tomas Markert.
Much of the draft includes issues agreed with the part the opposition, including electoral system reform, party financing issues, how to handle disputes in connection with elections. But it also contained some issues which was not agreed with the opposition, such as governors’ right to participate in the election campaign, to no longer do the finger marking and to stop having video surveillance cameras at polling stations, as well as the right for government owned companies to finance elections.
Adding to this, there are three issues which are absent in the draft sent by the government to the Venice Commission: To create a commission to verify the voters’ lists, to establish an inter-agency body which will monitor the use of the administrative resources during elections and to organize monitoring of media coverage.
In the beginning of September it was announced that in the next few days there would be held meetings in on the one hand, Georgia’s National Security Council to agree on the functions of the new Interagency, on the other hand in the Central Election Commission (CEC) about setting up a commission to survey the media coverage during election times.
Today, two month later, none of the meetings have been held, and it’s even unclear what functions these commissions will have. The government says that there is ‘no reason to hurry and these commissions will have to start working in July and August of 2012.’
Despite the fact that the law amendment was passed quickly, because the commission will have a massive amount of fact checking to get through, the commission has not been set up yet and the government has given no reason at all for the delay. Pavle Kublashvili, who represents the ruling party in parliament and is chairman of the editorial group working on election reform says that they will return to this issue next week.
According to the amendment just passed, the new commission will be set up pursuant to a presidential decree with the aim of fact checking the voters’ lists. The new commission will consist of up to 21 people, and equally include representatives of the government and oppositional political groups as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Who gets to sit in the commission on behalf of political groups and NGOs is up to the Georgian president to decide.
The new commission will provide organizational and technical services and have staff to provide the public with information. The deputy chairman and secretary of the commission will be selected among its staff. The chairman must be a person nominated by opposition parties.
More specifically, its activities are to be defined by additional regulation which will be approved by the Georgian president. Decisions must be made by a majority by at least a third of members.
The commission should carry out checking the lists all over the Georgian territory through different means, including going from door to door, or so-called canvassing. State entities will be obliged to cooperate with the commission to establish the complete list. Financing for the commission comes from the state budget. The codex now says that the commission should be finished checking the electoral roll by July 1, 2012 and present the complete voters’ list to the CEC.
Within the non-governmental sector many are skeptical towards setting up this commission, because they think it won’t be able to check the lists and could create even more problems.
Transparency International Georgia, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy and Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association (GYLA) has said that they will not participate in the work of this commission, for several reasons.
Tamar Chugoshvili, chairman of GYLA claims says that it is not defined who is responsible for working out the list and this is a source of mistrust. They do not exclude that the results of this commission work will make the electoral roll even more unclear than it is today. She thinks the checking process should be conducted by the Civil Registry and the CEC, which have all the resources to do this, and only after that initial checking should the commission recheck the list.
But Mamuka Katsitadze, who sits in the editorial group and is a New Rights party member, argues on behalf of the group that the opposition’s direct participation in the process of verifying voters’ lists is very important and hopes that the working process of this group will end up being a success and have positive results.