After reaching a hard-fought agreement with several opposition parties, the ruling party has introduced significant changes in the draft for a new Georgian Election Code.
According to lawmakers, the eleventh-hour changes were only made in order to ensure a democratic election environment in the country, however many opposition parties remain skeptical.
Some of the changes in the draft were made due to recommendations tabled last year by the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal and constitutional affairs. The latest draft is already sent to the Commission for another round of review.
Work to reform the election process began in October 2010 with talks between a coalition of opposition parties and the ruling National Movement party, but in the end, the ruling party managed to strike an agreement only with two out of eight opposition groups.
“There is no point in discussing things in an editorial group if the government continues with such surprises” — Levan Vepkhvadze, Christian Democrat party
The agreement envisages nine basic changes which will come into force in time for the parliamentary elections in 2012. Eight of them were reflected in the first draft and sent to the Venice Commission; the last one was about the monitoring of electoral lists and the media, which was worked out after sending the document to review by European experts.
The latest draft for new election law, however, introduces some changes which hadn’t been agreed upon by the opposition. The most recent changes include removing surveillance cameras from polling stations; to do away with the process of marking people’s fingers after voting and increase the power of the chair of the election commission.
“Some other issues are not reflected in the new version on the basis of our agreement, which are: setting up a coordinating council for the monitoring of unlawful use of administrative resources, monitoring of media coverage during the election campaign and establishing a special commission to monitor the voter’s lists.” said Tatuli Todua, parliamentary secretary for Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association, a Tbilisi-based legal advocacy group.
Up to one million GEL will be allocated for those opposition parties which pass the 5% threshold, according to the new changes. 300 000 GEL of it is to be spent on TV commercials during the election campaign. The latest draft does not oblige the Central Election Commission (CEC) to announce the exact number of voters before election day, but the numbers should be disclosed in the final vote tally.
“There are no specific formulations in the new draft about several issues and these discrepancies have been repeatedly discussed with the Venice Commission,” Pavle Kublashvili, Parliament’s legal affairs committee chairman and ruling party member, said. “Including an issue about independent candidates or recall of commission members. If the Commission or other parties have any suggestions, we will make specific solutions to those issues.”
Levan Vepkhvadze, a member of the moderate opposition Christian Democrat party, believes that the government should explain why the new proposed law includes themes which have not been discussed and agreed upon.
“There is no point in discussing things in an editorial group if the government continues with such surprises,” Vepkhvadze said.
“Debate about the new code will resume after the the Venice Commission has published its conclusions; now the media and groups in society have an opportunity to study it,” Davit Bakradze, the parliamentary chairman, said on September 19.
The new 141-page document will replace the current 171-page Election Code, which has been amended 46 times since its approval in 2001.
Another significant change when Georgians go to the ballot boxes next year to put together a new parliament is that the number of representatives will be increased from 150 to 190, but that was part of the talks held between the ruling party and two opposition groups this summer and is thus not one the Saakashvili government’s surprises.