TBILISI, DFWatch – The government is retracting on several of its eleventh-hour changes to the Georgian election law, but  stands firm on not allowing video surveillance in polling stations and defends the right of governors to participate in the election campaign.

This emerged Friday in comments made by a member of the editorial group which has worked out the text of the draft law, Mamuka Katsitadze, of the New Rights party.

When the ruling party suddenly introduced changes to the draft law without consulting anyone in August, several organizations objected, such as the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, Transparency International Georgia and International Society for Democracy and Fair Elections. They objected that a number of issues needed to be changed, especially when it comes to issues which were introduced right before the draft law was finished, and after an agreement had been signed with two opposition factions.

The Venice Commission also criticized the last minute changes. During their recent working visit to Georgia, the Commission said it was necessary to stick to the terms of the agreement.

According to Mamuka Katsitadze, the government is now backing down on all these issues, except two.

“Those two issues are about the surveillance cameras [in polling stations] and the governors’ participation in the election campaign. But still, their decision regarding these two issues – especially about the governors – is not their final position. It may also be changed. The government is more categorical about the surveillance camera issue. And their argument is the Council of Europe recommendation. As for the governors, the European Council position falls in line with ours and that’s why they cannot simply refuse. They say that the discussions will continue,” Mamuka Katsitadze says.

The other eleventh hour changes are to stop doing the finger marking, to keep secret the total number of voters and to increase the authority of the Central Elections Commission chairman. Katsitadze claims the government retracted on all these issues.

But he also explains that it won’t be technically possible to remove those issues from the draft law until the Venice Commission has published its conclusion, which is said to happen on 16 or 17 December, according to Tomas Markert, the Venice Commission chairman, who visited Georgia in October.

He says the government reached an agreement yesterday with non-governmental organizations about the cancelling of the surprise changes to the election system.

Georgia’s new election law was sent to the Venice Commission for review in August. But it was revealed that the draft contained significant changes inserted in the last moment which were not part of the agreement which the government formed with two opposition factions. These included to do away with the finger marking process and no longer have surveillance cameras at polling stations, as well as increased secrecy around the total number of voters and allowing companies that are part owned by the government to finance parties in the election.