Three rights groups refuse to take part in a new system meant to guarantee every Georgian the right to vote, because they think the reform may make things worse.
Parliament has just decided to establish a new system for going through the voters rolls and make sure that every citizen who has a right to vote is on the list, and no-one else. But three organizations think the new arrangement won’t be good enough and will boycott its work.
Every past election has been plagued by mistakes on the voter’s roll which some think are made deliberate to manipulate the outcome. The new system was supposed to guarantee every citizen the right to vote, following criticism from the Council of Europe. But three rights group are skeptical. Tamar Chugoshvili, chairman of Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association (GYLA) doesn’t rule out that the voters’ roll will be even more plagued by mistakes than it is today.
The groups think despite being plagued by problems, it would be better to keep the old system and have the new commission only as a supplement.
Under the new system, a special commission will be established to do quality check of the voters’ lists. Chugoshvili points out that the commission’s tasks are vaguely defined and it does not build trust in the process when it is not defined who will be responsible for working out the voters’ roll. For instance, the new law does not define how much money is needed for the commission’s work.
Together with Transparency International Georgia and International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, GYLA will not get involved in the work of this commission.
“There are many debatable issues and I don’t know who will take responsibility for it. We, three NGOs don’t take this responsibility,” Chugoshvili explained to DFWatch.
The groups think despite being plagued by problems, it would be better to keep the old system and have the new commission only as a supplement. They suggest that initial proof-checking is handled by the Central Election Commission and the Civil Registry, who have all the necessary resources, and only after they are done the new commission would go through and check the lists.
The right-to-vote reform comes as a new article in the long-awaited new election law, which has been subject to much debate over the last year. The idea to have a separate commission deal with this issue was part of the agreement between the ruling party and two opposition parties last summer, however, it was not included in the draft law sent to the Council of Europe’s Venice commission for review.
As envisaged in the new article, a commission of up to 21 members is to be set up in order to approve the voter’s roll. It will provide organizational and technical services, and have staff for providing the public with information, as well as applying different methods for verifying that the lists are correct, including going from door to door.
But both when it comes to its work responsibilities and its composition, it’s up to the president to have a final say. Work tasks for the commission is speficied in a special statute which needs to be approved by the Georgian president. And even though there is set a goal to follow a principle of equal representation, so committee members must include both representatives of the ruling party, opposition parties, political associations and representatives of NGOs, the actual selection of which parties and groups to have representation is up to the president.
Still, safeguards are built into the system to protect the minority. Decisions must be made by majority by at least a third of the members. The chairman must be a person nominated by opposition parties, while the deputy chairman and secretary of the commission are to be selected among its staff.
Another principle written into the new code is that the commission should be done with proof-checking the lists before July 1, 2012 and should present it to the Central Election Commission (CEC). This list will then be the official voters’ roll.
In addition, state agencies will be obliged to cooperate to proof-check the lists. The commission’s activities will be financed from the state budget.
Opposition politician Mamuka Katsitadze, who is leader of the editorial committee and member of the New Rights party, told DFWatch that it’s important that to let the opposition participate in proof-checking the voters’ roll but is skeptical to what degree this will happen.
Georgia is to hold parliamentary elections in October 2012.
DFWatch recommends: Improving the election environment in Georgia, by Tamar Chugoshvili, chair of Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association.