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Draft of New Electoral Code

23.09.2011

Civil.ge

Draft of the new electoral code, expected to be approved before the end of this year, was formally initiated in the Parliament on September 19.

The new 141-page document, which is slated to replace the current 171-page electoral code amended for 46 times since its approval in 2001, was drafted by the ruling party lawmakers.

Key changes in the draft involve those provisions, which have been agreed between the ruling National Movement party and several opposition parties in June, including, among others, increasing seats in Parliament from current 150 to 190 (also requiring a constitutional amendment, which has yet to be initiated) and party campaign funding.

 New Electoral System Outlined

According to ruling party lawmakers the draft of new electoral code, which seems to be better structured than the existing one, has been sent for an expertise to the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal and constitutional affairs, Venice Commission, last week.

“Although the draft has been initiated, its discussion will start after the conclusions by the Venice Commission becomes available; meanwhile, the society, media and non-governmental sector will have an opportunity to study it,” Davit Bakradze, the parliamentary chairman, said on September 19.

Other Changes

Several of the proposed changes, other than those envisaged by the electoral system reform deal, are in line with the recommendations tabled by the Venice Commission last year; although not all of those recommendations are addressed in the draft.

The proposed draft of new code does not envisage voter marking procedure on the election day. The system of marking a finger with special invisible ink to avoid multiple voting has been in practice in Georgia since partially annulled November 2003 parliamentary elections.
 
A provision allowing use of CCTV cameras at polling stations with a purpose to prevent violations and to verify complaints on alleged violations is also removed from the draft of new code.

Last year the Venice Commission recommended removing this provision from the code, describing it as “problematic”, arguing that the use of recording devices in the polling station, “even if it does not infringe on the secrecy of the ballot, may appear to do so and can also intimidate some voters.”

Unlike the current code, the draft does not contain a provision, which obliges the Central Election Commission to announce a total number of voters before the Election Day. It, however, will still have to indicate total number of voters in a final vote tally.
 
Rule of composition of Central Election Commission and lower level election administrations remains the same. The draft envisages doubling salaries for members and staff of the Central Election Commission and District Election Commissions during the electoral period.

If approved the new code will allow electoral commission chairperson to take a decision regarding registering of an electoral subject. Such decision is currently taken collectively by CEC members.
According to the draft, CEC chairperson and not respective district election commissions will have to take a decision on whether or not to register a majoritarian MP candidate running in a single-mandate constituency.

The draft simplifies procurement procedures for CEC during the electoral period and removes a provision which currently obliges CEC to submit its financial report to the Ministry of Finance.

CEC has to approve parliamentary election final vote tally within 19 days after the elections, instead of current 18 days, according to the draft. In case of presidential election, this deadline is extended from current 8 to 20 days.

In respect of filing complaints, the draft allows to appeal a decision of precinct election commissions not only to district commissions (within two days), but also directly to the court within four days. But the decision of district election commissions will still have to be appealed at first to Central Election Commission and only after that to the court if needed, according to the draft.

In respect of use of administrative resources, the draft mainly replicates provisions from the current code. The draft, like the current code, bans the authorities to undertake any additional spending, for example for new social and welfare programs, during an electoral campaign apart from those envisaged in advance in an annual budget. In this respect the draft adds a provision according to which an unspecified “authorized person” will have the right to appeal the court if such additional spending takes place during the electoral period.
The draft also adds a provision that bans district election commissions to be housed in administrative buildings of local authorities.
 
The election code allows use of administrative resources for campaign purposes, but it says that the resources should be accessible equally for all the parties and candidates. In its recommendations last year, the Venice Commission said that although “provision appears to adhere to the equal opportunity principle” in practice the governing party usually have easier access to such resource and for that reason the code “should expressly prohibit direct or indirect use of all types of administrative resources – financial, material, technical, and human resources.”

It was the Venice Commission’s recommendation to enact a new electoral code rather than further emending it in order to “help systematise and streamline the provisions, as well as eliminate ambiguities and inconsistencies between the Code’s various articles, which possibly have resulted from frequent amendments in the past years.”

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