TBILISI, DFWatch – Another surprise bill about election reform made its way to parliament Monday, making it clear that the government intends to ignore objections from a broad section of society when it comes to party financing.
Legal persons in Georgia will be prohibited from financing political parties. Only banks will be able to offer parties credit limited upwards to 100 000 Georgian lari.
The limit for donations from individuals will be doubled to 60 000 lari in total, and party membership fee can be maximum 1 200 lari. The annual financing of a party shouldn’t be more than 0.2% of the gross domestic product (GDP) including public funding.
This means that a political party’s financing cannot exceed 53 million lari for next year. Any amount above that limit must be transferred to the state. Party financing must be done through electronic transfers. Parties and legal persons will be prohibited from giving money, presents and other material values, whilst it is also clear that the monitoring of party party will be conducted by the Chamber of Control, instead of the Central Election Commission (CEC).
This will be the rules for party financing in Georgia, following a decision by the government.
Despite the fact that many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were against this idea, a bill outlining these rules was presented to parliament Monday.
The bill’s initiators are the majority representatives Pavle Kublashvili, Akaki Minashvili and Chiora Taktakishvili.
The Ministry of Justice has been working on this bill since October and has repeatedly reviewed it together with NGOs, but the idea was met with a forceful resistance from experts and NGOs, because as they see it, the new regulation will make it difficult for parties to even survive, and this will significantly hamper the development of political processes in the country.
The government sent this bill to the Council of Europe’s (CoE) special body which works on election reform, the Venice Commission, without letting any other political groups know about it was only because of reporting by the media that it came to the public’s attention.
The ruling party’s reasoning behind the bill names as reason a number of recommendations from the CoE’s anti-corruption subcommittee – GRECO. But experts and NGOs alike claim that there is no such thing in these recommendations.
“I have rechecked these recommendations and there isn’t written any such thing. There is only one sentence that ‘it’s possible to establish some restrictions’ and afterwards there is a list of what kind of restrictions may be established. One of them is donations from legal persons. But it’s about restriction, not prohibition. There are restrictions in the current law too. This is not a recommendation, but a theoretical possibility,” says Vakhtang Khmaladze, an independent legal expert who co-wrote Georgia’s constitution of 1995.
“But it’s written as a clear recommendation that there should be a prohibition on donations from the legal persons which have been participating in state purchases, and also for legal persons in which the government has shares, something the opposition has been systematically asking for. There is also written that there can be restrictions on a party’s expenses during the elections. But they haven’t followed this, and there are written many good things, which they aren’t following,” Khmaladze says.
Opponents of the government claim that these new regulations are connected with the sudden appearance of the billionaire philanthropist Bidzina Ivanishvili on the political scene, something even experts who support the government openly say.
Experts consider the changes alarming and think they will hurt all parties, because these norms on the one hand, give an opportunity for double interpretation and on the other hand, political parties will have significant problems finding financing, while the ruling party will be in a privileged position, because it has most access to using administrative resources, an area in which the CoE has pointed out that regulations are poorly implemented.