May 20, 2008
A service of the Government of Georgia
Pre-Election Findings and Reports on May 21 Parliamentary Polls
The main international election observation mission (EOM) in Georgia for the May 21 parliamentary elections is operating under the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). The ODIHR mission includes a core team of 14 staff members from 12 OSCE member states, 28 long-term observers deployed in the regions, and approximately 350 short-term observers. The mission releases interim reports on a regular basis during the lead-up to the election.
Additional international election observation missions include the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, National Democratic Institute (NDI), and delegations from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Sweden, Ukraine, France, Italy, Finland, Hungary, and others. In total, over 800 international observers have been registered at the Central Election Commission of Georgia.
Media monitoring is being conducted on a quantitative and qualitative basis by the Central Election Commission (CEC) and by Transparency International Georgia. The purpose of these monitoring efforts is to help ensure that all electoral contestants enjoy equal access to the media and fair coverage of their campaigns.
II. PRE-ELECTION ASSESSMENTS
1. Legislative Framework Provides Sound Basis for Democratic Elections:
“The legal framework is generally conducive to the conduct of democratic elections, if implemented accordingly.” – ODIHR Interim Report No.1
“A number of changes have been made to the Unified Election Code of Georgia that broadly conform with recommendations made by OSCE/ODIHR, NDI and other international and domestic election observers.” – Statement of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) Pre-Election Delegation
“The delegation welcomed the efforts by the authorities to improve the administration of the elections and to address the recommendations made by PACE after the Presidential election in January 2008. The delegation was heartened by the political will expressed by the authorities to organise parliamentary elections that are in line with Council of Europe standards. …The delegation welcomes the simplification of the complaints and appeals procedure for these elections, which it hopes will be implemented both to the spirit and letter of the law.” – Statement of the Pre-Election Delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)
Some observers have criticized the short time-frame in which election-related constitutional amendments were passed prior to the parliamentary polls, arguing that the usual consultation and public deliberation periods were omitted from the process. However, it is worth noting that the elections could not have occurred this spring—as chosen by a large majority of Georgia’s citizens in the January plebiscite—without the passage of constitutional amendments (according to the constitution, the elections were to be held in the autumn). As such, the amendments were passed under severe time pressure, with the aim of respecting the electorate’s wishes expressed in January.
2. Election Administration Working Actively to Prepare for Voting:
“The CEC has been active [in] preparing [for] the elections and holds frequent meetings which are open to party representatives, media and observers.” – ODIHR Interim Report No.1
“The delegation welcomes the efforts made by the CEC to reach out to domestic election monitoring NGOs. This has included granting the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) access to the full voters list, providing the voters list to NGOs prior to the legal deadline, and signing a memorandum of understanding with ISFED, the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), Transparency International (TI) and New Generation New Initiative (nGnI) on interpretation of the law relating to the use of administrative resources.” – Statement of the NDI Pre-Election Delegation
The ODIHR mission raised concerns that some election commissions, including the CEC, were not functioning as a collegial body as required by law. This fact can be traced to changes made before and after the January election, which gave Georgia’s seven main political parties the right to appoint election commission members. In the current contentious atmosphere, political disagreements have occasionally transformed into disputes within the electoral administration. The Government encourages all election officials to carry out their duties impartially and professionally.
Minor concerns have also been raised regarding the level of preparedness of some precinct commissions, particularly in rural areas. The CEC has organized numerous training seminars with the help of its international partner organizations, and these trainings have been actively underway in recent weeks. Instruction manuals, booklets, and other materials have also been produced and widely distributed to all levels of the electoral administration.
3. Campaigning Underway in Calmer Political Environment:
“Compared with the atmosphere surrounding the January 5 presidential election, the level of internal political friction appears to be lower as the parliamentary elections approach. …At the same time, the level of external tension is much higher. Since January, there have been numerous efforts to promote dialogue between the governing party and the opposition.” – Statement of the NDI Pre-Election Delegation
“The delegation noted that the campaign climate is less tense than during the Presidential elections. However, the continuing highly polarised political climate in Georgia hinders a constructive issue-based campaign, which would allow the voters to make a choice between distinct alternatives.” – Statement of the PACE Pre-Election Delegation
“Campaign activities have gained momentum during the reporting period. The incumbent United National Movement (UNM) has been campaigning intensively, including leading figures on the party list, candidates for single-mandate constituencies, and local party activists. Campaigning by some opposition parties has also got underway, notably by leading politicians in the single mandate constituencies in which they are candidates.” – ODIHR Interim Report No.2
“The emergence of new political parties and new electoral blocs since January is testament to the relative openness of the political environment and implies a healthy responsiveness to shifting political views among the electorate.” – Statement of the NDI Pre-Election Delegation
Candidates are able to campaign openly and express their views freely; nevertheless, some observer missions have registered concern about allegations of voter intimidation, particularly in the regions. The Government of Georgia takes these allegations extremely seriously and will not tolerate improper behavior on the part of campaign activists, local officials, or others. President Mikheil Saakashvili, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Ministry of Education and Science have all made public statements condemning and discouraging such behavior (see Section III).
Additionally, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Free and Fair Elections, established by the President and comprised of key officials from different governmental bodies, has been tasked with ensuring that complaints are properly investigated and that appropriate responses are enacted.
4. Media Monitoring Finds Reporting Neutral in Tone, but Outlets Except Public TV Exhibit Favoritism Toward One Party or Another:
The vast majority (93%) of television news coverage for all electoral contestants has been neutral in tone. – Transparency International Georgia/GORBI media monitoring report, Ma 14, 2008
“Regular talk shows and debates between political parties and candidates on the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) as well as national and regional private broadcasters have provided contestants with an important forum for an exchange of views. In addition, contestants have been able to utilize airtime for free-of-charge presentations and spots on both GPB and private broadcasters.” – ODIHR Interim Report No.2
Despite the general plurality of views and the neutral tone of media coverage, the ODIHR mission registered concern at “a lack of balance, in favour of one party or the other depending on TV channel, in the prime-time news coverage of political subjects and candidates on most monitored TV stations, with the exception of public TV” (ODIHR Interim Report No.2). The Government is pleased by the professionalism and impartiality demonstrated by the Public Broadcaster and would hope that other television stations follow this example. At the same time, the Government urges all electoral contestants to respect the rights of journalists and to refrain from any actions that might hinder the independent functioning of the media.
III. ADDITIONAL RESOURCES & LINKS
1. Website of the ODIHR Mission in Georgia: http://www.osce.org/odihr-elections/item_12_30564.html
2. Statement of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) Pre-Electoral Delegation: http://www.accessdemocracy.org/library/2309_ge_statement_peam_050208.pdf
3. Statement of the Pre-Electoral Delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE): http://assembly.coe.int/ASP/APFeaturesManager/defaultArtSiteView.asp?ID=772
4. Website of the Central Election Commission: http://www.cec.gov.ge
5. Website of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Free and Fair Elections, including Election Update bulletins: http://www.president.gov.ge/ITF2_E.html
6. CEC Media Monitoring Results: http://cec.gov.ge/?que=eng/press-center/media-monitoring
7. Statement by President Mikheil Saakashvili, May 6:
“I want to tell clearly to everyone: Nobody should try to mess up these processes, nobody should try to illegally interfere into election processes. Free elections are now a matter of national security and an issue of Georgia’s long-term prospects, and we will protect it with our teeth to ensure that Georgia has a future. This is my call, pledge, and warning. One of the candidates in the Tsageri district decided to exert pressure on the local self-governance bodies. It happened just two days after I strictly warned public officials not to interfere in the electoral process, not to side with any of the candidates. I think everybody should understand that I am not joking when I speak. Holding free elections in Georgia is an issue of our dignity. All those who hamper it will be held responsible. Although this candidate himself decided to withdraw from race, I had in any case taken a decision – and I told this to our party leadership and they agreed with it – to strip him of his candidacy and to bring the investigation [into the case] to the end. I want to make it clear once again – do not try to make a mess, do not try to intervene illegally in the electoral processes.”
8. Statement of the Ministry of Education and Science, May 12:
“The Ministry of Education and Science expresses its deep concern with regard to recent statements of the Public Defender about alleged political pressure on the employees of the education system. A school is a non-political institution; therefore, any forms of political intimidation of teachers or school administration are absolutely unacceptable. …The Ministry will take all the measures necessary to eradicate the cases of political intimidation in case they are revealed and/or reported.”
9. Statement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, May 13:
“The Ministry of Internal Affairs joins the Public Defender in his call that all cases of intimidation and pressure, as well as other election-related crimes, must be investigated and those guilty punished. I also want to reassure witnesses and possible victims that their rights will be fully protected during the process of investigation. However, the Ministry would herewith like to encourage everyone, especially the Public Defender, who possesses substantiated information about such cases to address relevant law enforcement agencies and cooperate more actively. Free and fair elections are our common goal and shared responsibility, and hence require joint effort.”
IV. FURTHER INFORMATION
For further information, please contact:
Ms. Elene Agladze, IATF Coordinator:
, +995 99 501 858