Georgia’s ruling party has made it illegal for a political candidate to let him or herself be caught up in backroom deals with campaign contributors. The opposition thinks it’s done to undermine their financing.
While the laws against corruption here as in other countries applies to elected officials, Georgia has widened criminal liability to also include persons standing in elections, usually not a crime in most countries, although heavily criticized, unless there is a direct “quid pro quo”.
According to a new bill, requesting or obtaining money, securities, other property and property benefits and any undue advantage by an election candidate will be punishable.
The new law is viewed with suspicion in opposition quarters. They fear that they will be cut off from private financing ahead of elections, a view shared by experts as well as a broad swathe of the population: In a debate on Maestro TV Monday night 98 % of callers voted that the new law is a way of targeting the opposition.
“I don’t think it’s legal, because firstly candidate is not a public servant and secondly, various promises are generally typical for the elections. It’s a political process and it’s not signing contract or other agreement, so that you won’t be asked for any responsibility for non-fulfillment of these agreements. Such things don’t happen anywhere,” Vakhtang Khmaladze, legal expert and representative of the Republican Party says.
The initiative anticipates future amendments to the election law, and was prepared by ruling party parliamentarians Zviad Kukava and Kakha Andjaparidze. Parliament is in the process of reviewing the bill.
If proven guilty of making a deal ahead of an election, a candidate is sentenced to between six and nine years in prison. If the candidate received a big amount of bribe – above ten thousand Georgian lari, he may be sentenced to from seven to eleven years in prison; and with repeated offences or bribes above 30 thousand lari, he may be given from eleven to fifteen years in prison.
“You cannot punish a person for a crime he did not commit but someone just anticipated that he was going to commit something” –Zakaria Kutsnashvili, chairman of NGO Law for People
But experts DFWatch have spoke to think it’s unfair to punish election candidates for bribery, because bribery is the case when a public official is misusing his position in return for material goods, not a candidate who hasn’t even been elected.
In addition, the new law represents a departure from the principle that an action is not considered a crime until it has been carried out. An election candidate will also be punished if he or she received anything resembling a proposal or a promise to ‘take any action or prevent any action from accomplishing it; or use his or her authority to achieve such aims or carry out official protection’, should the candidate be elected.
Zakaria Kutsnashvili, Chairman of the NGO Law for People NGO explains that criminal responsibility means that there will be sanctions for a crime that has been committed, but “you cannot punish a person for a crime he did not commit but someone just anticipated that he was going to commit something.”
He therefore thinks that this decision lacks sufficient legal basis.
Zviad Kukava, co-author of the bill, explains that the decision just fulfills international recommendations and is done with a desire for “high-democratic elections”.
“Acts of corruption by election candidates must be maximally prevented, and this amendment accomplishes to maintain a transparent election process,” according to Kukava.
“But there is a suspicion that the reason for adopting this regulation is not only to remove candidates from running but for also for sending them to jail. With fair and independent courts such a danger would not exist at all. But in Georgian reality there is such a danger,” Vakhtang Khmaladze thinks.
Further strengthening the opposition’s suspicion, Zviad Kukava makes the argument that it won’t be easy to accuse election candidates for receiving bribe, because it will be necessary with evidence.
Evidence can be secret recordings, which have been frequently used by the Georgian government, also records of bank transfers.
The way this sounds within a Georgian context, with the past years of secret recordings widely regarded as fabricated or enacted, reinforces the opposition’s fears that the new law was made so that the opposition will be reject offers of gifts from sponsors during election time, out of fear that the government later can put pressure on the sponsors and force them to level accusations against the opposition and claim that the gift was actually a bribe.