TBILISI, DFWatch – Pro-democracy campaigners in Georgia welcome a step by the government to change a controversial law which they believe would be used to secure Mikheil Saakashvili’s power grip over the country in an election this fall.
But the groups are not satisfied with the government’s partly backing down. The law will now no longer apply to local and international organizations, but campaigners say it may still be used against ordinary citizens and the media, and might therefore have a chilling effect on the democratic process.
Speaker of Parliament Davit Bakradze said March 5 that a section will be added to the law to assuage concern among international organizations which were reconsidering their democracy-building efforts in Georgia because they might be in violation of the new law.
“We think that the changes [made in December 2011] significantly restrict the freedom of speech and choice and the activity of the parties. The parliamentary speaker’s initiative isn’t enough,” said Keti Khutsishvili, head of Open Society Georgia Foundation.
She says the ‘This Affects You Too’ campaign will continue, because the basic goals haven’t been achieved.
Tamar Chugoshvili, chair of Georgian Young Lawyers Association says that it’s not right to focus only on the fact that local groups or international organizations are getting freed from trouble with the new law.
February 17 the campaign took their alternative bill to parliament. It would narrow the category of people the law applies to, not have criminal liability for voters who receive gifts from politicians, restrict the power of the Chamber of Control and make detailed rules for how the Chamber goes about sequestering property and imposing sanctions.
“All these issues should be discussed in complexity, otherwise we cannot consider that any positive or serious improvement of the legislation will be achieved,” Tamar Chugoshvili says.
Akaki Minashvili of the ruling party met them March 7 to say that the new law is not restricting their activity. Minashvili claims the other issues brought up are still being debated in parliament and will be settled by next week. The campaigners are now awaiting the result of this debate.
Georgia is holding parliamentary election this October and presidential election next year and for the first time has two competing political blocs with sizeable support among the popularion. Considering the fraud in the two elections in 2008, many are skeptical that Saakashvili’s apparatus will let it be a fair contest when it is really being challenged in the polls.