TBILISI, DFWatch – The Concil of Europe’s special commission about election reform has recommended that Georgia lets Bidzina Ivanishvili run in the elections even without a citizenship in the country.
The Venice commission recommends that the Georgian government gives people not having Georgian citizenship an opportunity to get involved in election campaigns.
Although this recommendation is included in the Venice Commission’s report about Georgia’s last draft election law, the government has only been mentioning the things that the Venice Commission agrees with it about, such as that they welcome the prohibition on legal entities financing political parties.
Both issues came to the public’s attention after billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili had his citzenship revoked on October 11. If he can’t get it back he won’t be able to legally participate in the upcoming elections, neither will he be able to finance political parties, because Georgian legislation prohibits a non-Georgian citizen from doing this.
But the current law allows non-citizens to finance political movements via legal entities such as private companies or organizations. However, the government recently decided to close this opportunity for Ivanishvili as well by introducing a new clause that makes it prohibited for legal entities to finance political parties.
This new prohibition is not included in a draft bill for new election code which was sent to the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission for review. Only thanks to media reports did the public get to know about it.
Following these add-on changes, legal entities are prohibited from financing political parties; only banks can give credit to parties with an upward limit of a hundred thousand Georgian lari. The donation limit for individuals will be doubled to 60 000 lari; while party membership fees cannot exceed 1 200 lari per year.
The total amount of campaign contributions a party receives in a year can not exceed 0.2% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), including financing received from the state. Going by next year’s budget, this means that each political party has a ceiling on their campaign contributions set at 53 million lari as Georgia moves into an election year. Any amount overshooting this must be transferred to the state.
Another change is that all contributions must be done by electronic transfer, not in the form of cash.Parties and individuals are prohibited from giving money, prizes or other material goods. The monitoring of party financing will be conducted by the Chamber of Control instead of the Central Election Commission (CEC).
These are issues which weren’t included in the draft election code sent to the Venice Commission for review. Additionally, in the bill which was agreed with the opposition in summer, the limit for contributions from legal entities is doubled, just like for individuals.
It’s therefore clear that those two bills contradict each other. But the government claims that the Venice Commission still supports the prohibition on legal entities financing parties.
Pavle Kublashvili, chairman of parliament’s Judicial Committee says that the Venice Commission’s draft recommendations are mostly positive to the changes. He added that ‘this kind of legislation generally gives an opportunity to hold elections in a transparent and competitive environment.
Kublashvili focuses on the rules of party financing, despite the fact that the Venice Commission hasn’t yet published its conclusions about this limitation.
“The Venice Commission thinks that considering the fact that it’s very easy to finance legal entities in Georgia and giving them an opportunity to finance parties, it may become an opportunity for manipulation,” Kublashvili says, adding that they like the bill prepared by the Georgian Ministry of Justice.
The 31-page draft recommendations published on the Venice Commission’s website reviews in detail the changes to the Georgian Electoral Code. There is particular attention paid to the norms which needs changes.
These norms are: prohibition on participation in elections and competing in elections following a long term recidency in the country; formation of the electoral districts in a way which violates principles of suffrage right; non-existence of circumstances which gives opportunities for independent candidates to compete; the lack of a mechanism making it easier to participate in elections; not enough regulation of the financing of political parties and campaign; not enough measures to solve electoral disputes.
The preliminary recommendations from the Venice Commission further makes some remarks about the lack of implementation of restrictions on the use of administrative resources for campaign purposes.
The Commission considers that in cases where non-citizens do not have the right to vote, they should still have the right to freely express their minds, and participate in the political debates during the election campaign.
Such restrictions violate the rights of people living in Georgia not having citizenship and is a violation of basic human rights.
The recommendation focuses on the use of administrative recourses; because the bill says that it is allowed to use administrative resources.
“At a first glance this regulation gives equal opportunities, but such equality can easily be violated, because the governmental political parties have an easy access to such recourses,” the recommendation says.
Misuse of the right to use administrative resources has always been a source of concern for local and international observers during elections in Georgia.
“This is caused by the lack of formulation in the legislation, which was repeated in the Election Code bill. The regulations in the code makes unclear the line between the government and political parties and do not come in line with OSCE obligations,” the conclusion says.
The opposition parties which signed an agreement with the government last summer, as well as non-governmental organizations, think that the recommendations should be heeded.
The government on its part still claims that ‘what will be heeded and what not will be decided while reviewing the bill in parliament.’