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Sozar Subari: “No More Rigged Elections” – Real Problem or Pre-election trick.

02.05.2008
Public Defender does not trust the chairperson of the CEC

Nona Suvariani, Tbilisi

Why does not Public Defender trust the chairperson of the CEC? Why were amendments introduced to the Election Code just before the Elections? What are the connections between the pre-election campaign and problems in Abkhazia? Twenty days remain before the Parliamentary Elections. The Human Rights Centre interviewed Sozar Subari, the Georgian Public Defender about the situation in the country during the pre-election

Journalist: What about the amendments that were introduced to the Election Code before the elections and do you see any tendencies? Why so many changes were made?

Sozar Subari:  Generally the problem of our elections is that before each election the Code is turned upside down. As a result, election administrations, citizens, political parties cannot fully understand how to deal with all of the most recent changes. As for the amendments many of them are necessary and really appreciated. For example, lowering the barrier for being able for a political party to enter the parliament was reduced from 7% to 5 %. Such a change will support a wider range of political parties in the new parliament; though I personally did not support the idea. However, some changes would be more effective, take for example, restoring the old majoritarian system when each district had one representative in the parliament; this could have worked if we had two-chamber parliament.

One more unacceptable amendment was about the video recording at the election districts. Under the changes it has become almost impossible to view video recordings of the polling process. After these changes I cannot understand why we pay money for the installation of the video-cameras? The purpose of the video-recording was to observe and detect possible violations; punish violators and take preventive measures in the future. Now, only those people can see the video-recording who are located in that particular district. But even they can see only fifteen-minute period when they suspect that a possible violation occurred. Besides that they can see the recording only at the court or at the Precinct Election Commission. They cannot make a copy of the recording. The video-recording has lost its function since we started studying violations. Despite the barriers created by the CEC during the recent presidential elections we managed to see the recordings of 12 video-cameras and observed a lot of violations. Evidently, decision-makers did not like the situation and its transparency.

Now it will be difficult to observe and expose violations. However, the procedures for filing complaints against the observed violations have become easier, which is a positive note. Generally, positive changes in the Election Code were made according vital demands of the Western Countries. We did not have a political will to make these changes ourselves. Vaclav Havel, legendary president of Czech Republic, wrote that as soon as communist regime ended in Czech Republic, the country was immediately able to resolve various problems. More precisely, soon after the end of communism fair elections were held in the country. Adam Michnick, famous Polish journalist claimed the same. When he was asked when elections were flawed in his country last, he said elections have never been flawed since communism ended. Unfortunately, we do not have enough political will and cultural development so not to rig elections. The fairest elections in Georgia were held during communist regime when Zviad Gamsakhurdia won the polls and was the first president-elect of Georgia. However, ever since then each and each election was flawed to a various degree.

J: One of the painful amendments was restriction of the video-recording. Generally, how successful was the video-recording of the polls during the most recent elections and why is it regretful to restrict that procedure?

S.S: Video-recording could become a Sword of Damocles for each and every violator. We could check all election districts in order to demand that all violators be punished. We could just rebuke some of them, others, who were too active in vote rigging, could be sent to prison; others would have to resign from high position and be deprived of the right to be a commission member in future; others could be fined, warned, etc. Evidently, [they] did not like it and made it more difficult to review recordings. I did not intend to re-check the results of the previous elections but we aimed at the prevention of all kind violations during the up-coming elections. Now we will not do anything in this regard.

However, we are now restricted not only in watching the video-recordings but we are also deprived of the right to look through the lists of voters where actual voters signed after they voted. For example, when there are only 1,500 voter inserted on the election list for each district you suddenly find out that exactly same number arrived at the election district. Consequently, you are doubtful because such situations do not actually occur.

J: You say that the chairperson of the Central Election Commission did his best to prevent the exposition of violations. Why is he interested to flaw the elections and mostly in favor of the government?

B.B. I did not say that the chairperson of the CEC is interested to rig elections. I said that he is eager to support all violators. I can only speak about facts. He did not give us the list; he prevented us from obtaining video-recordings. He and his Press Service Office lied when claiming that they gave those recording to the Public Defender’s Office without any obstacles and we were able to see them in February (the presidential elections was in January). In fact, we were sending letters to them in January and February and spent a lot of time and effort. Then I met the president and spoke about the problem. He promised me the CEC would give me the video-recordings but then again the time was prolonged.

Finally we managed to view the recordings on March 2 but only in their place. We were not allowed to make a copy. The CEC told us that it was technically impossible. However, we found out that it was possible to copy it and on March 10 we copied the first material and on April 2 we made the last copy. Then the CEC members refused to make other copies because they were moving to another office and had no time for our needs. They had to send recordings apparatus to regions to install them for new elections.

We received the final material on April 2 and on the next day we held a briefing. For some reasons we were blamed for having made political statements; and why we held the briefing just before the parliamentary elections. I can tell you why, because we want to prevent everybody to flaw the up-coming elections.

The reply of the CEC to the international organizations was also not serious. The reply stated that our allegations were untrue. We counted how many voters entered the election district and how many of them were registered on the list. We observed serious difference; at some districts the difference between registered voters and people actually entering the polls. Can you imagine what was going on the districts where video-recorder was not installed?

J: How do you think, with current background when the most neutral side, Ombudsman does not trust the chairperson of the CEC, will it be possible to hold transparent and fair elections in the future?

S.S: I do want to say that my mistrust has been groundless; but unfortunately it is not!

J: Public Defender’s Office also observed the Snap Presidential Elections. What kind of violations did you observe and what do you expect now based on the amendments introduced to the Election Code?

S.S. I cannot speak of what kind of violations that we observed because we monitored the elections along with the Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) under their mandate. Our representatives individually took part in the monitoring. GYLA filed over 230 complaints bit neither the court nor the CEC discussed their complaints.

I cannot explain to you what will happen but I can only express my concern over the information that we receive from Georgian regions over the situation there. It is suppression. People with influence, for example, business-owners, are called into the Prosecutor’s Offices. There is information that so-called criminal authorities will be used for the pre-election campaign to influence and even suppress some part of society. We also received information that a number of people were actually arrested; though we cannot claim it because the people who informed me about it preferred to keep the information secret.

J: What is your assessment about the pre-election situation? Has the incidence of violence increased? Is current pre-election campaign any different from the one before the presidential elections in terms of participating political parties?

S. S. Pre-election campaign of the Presidential Elections started during the period of “Emergency Rule” in Georgia. However, because of the current problems in Abkhazia, the situation might be assessed as also a period of emergency rule again. Media sources claim that separate candidates are promising their voters, spending all the airtime on broadcasting the news from the Abkhazia and conflict zone and not on elections.  I do not know what the real reason for the created situation but it appears that either a dangerous situation actually exists or has been artificially created to distract the public’s attention to a more important issue in Abkhazia. We have a lot of examples to support such a perspective. We remember detention of Russian spies during the elections of local self-governments in 2006 which was followed by the extradition of Georgian citizens from Russia. An incident happened in Ganmukhuri, in conflict zone before the Snap Presidential Elections on January 5 2008. That means it is a well-exercised method. And I doubt whether it is a real problem or pre-election trick.

J: How will you assess the activities of media source? How impartial they are while revealing the pre-election campaign?

S.S. I have not discussed the issue separately. However I should underline the boycott the Georgian TV Stations used against opposition politicians. Although the boycott was cancelled, it lasted for a period of time. It is not reasonable when certain politicians boycott TV Stations but journalists cannot force them to give interviews or make comments. If a politician fears that his interview will be damaged and is ready to speak only live, it is his/her right. But a journalist, TV Company, newspapers do not have right to boycott them because it is in the interest of the society to receive unbiased information. Particularly, such a situation relates to TV stations. Why was the National Communication Regulatory Commission established? It is because of limited frequencies that must be used for the benefit of Georgian society. The regulator estimates which channel should provide public-political broadcasting, entertaining, etc. Thus, the state interferes in the activities of TV Companies because the frequency is a limited source and public interest must be preserved in the field. TV Companies during this period had a license to broadcast public and political programs and declare boycotts to certain people and leave the people upside. Electro-Distribution Companies can do the same because they are also monopolists in the field, and they can cease the electricity supply, for example to Gldani district in Tbilisi because the owners of the company do not like the person who the consumer or taking part in the ballot. It is crime. I can say the same about the politicians who boycott the TV Stations.

 

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