Aleko Tskitishvili, http://humanrightshouse.org
Lately, the government of Georgia and the ruling party – United National Movement [UNM] became targets of strict criticism from two international institutions simultaneously. Co-rapporteurs from Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and OSCE PA Pre-Election Mission laid out particular concerns about current situation in Georgia and demanded the government to create equal conditions for all political parties during pre-election campaign.
Pre-History in Short
Just before the international observation missions made evaluations, international and national nongovernmental organizations released statements, where they condemned the activities of the government against opposition parties. Namely, the NGO sector undersocred those facts which hindered pre-election process for the parliamentary elections scheduled on October 1, 2012.
Coalition for Freedom of Choice paid particular attention to unhealthy pre-election environment at the end of last year and alleged that it could impact the pre-election process. In December of 2011, the Coalition published Analyze of Media Problems and Human Rights Violation Facts Related with Political Processes during Pre-Election Period.
In July of 2012, when the pre-election environment got particularly tensed, international organization Amnesty International directly called upon the government of Georgia to stop violence against opposition political parties. “ As Georgians prepare to vote in parliamentary elections in October, Amnesty International is concerned that the authorities are failing to protect the opposition supporters and journalists from what appears to be politically targeted violence,” the statement of the Amnesty International reads and lists the incidents that occurred in the regions of Georgia against the opposition coalition Georgian Dream.
Regional media also reports about assumed bribery, politically motivated firing of people from jobs, oppression, interference in professional activities and usage of administrative resources by the UNM (see Pre-election Digest #1 from Mtkhseta-Mtianeti and Pre-election Digest # 1 from Kakheti 1)
Georgian civil society got concerned about Seizure of Global TV’s Satellite Dish Antennas which was soon followed by Seizure of Antennas of the TV-Company Maestro and Protest of Civil Society.
NGO sector was particularly concerned about inadequate and disproportionate financial sanctions imposed on the leader of the Georgian Dream Bidzina Ivanishvli. Among those sanctions 74, 32 million lari fine was the largest one imposed on Bidzina Ivanishvili of the Georgian Dream by the Tbilisi Appeal Court on June 15. At the end of July, Bidzina Ivanishvili paid the fine with one condition – the money was to be spent on the assistace of victims of natural disaster in Kakheti region.
In parallel to it, the State Audit Office was periodically sequestering the accounts of the Georgian Dream’s activists and Coalition member political parties. The National Bureau of Enforcement was operatively putting the sequestered properties on the auction to sell them out. Massive sequestration of properties of citizens with different political opinions acquired very tragic and satiric character.
OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s pre-election observation mission expressed concerns over “questionable decisions” made by the State Audit Office, including on imposing “disproportionate” and “harsh” penalties “apparently being applied in a selective manner.”
Four-member mission, made up of OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s leadership, also expressed concerns over judiciary system and expressed hope that in final weeks of the campaign ahead of the October 1 parliamentary elections the Georgian authorities would create “a level playing field for all parties”.
News agency Interpresnews reports the OSCE PA Mission paid visit to Tbilisi to monitor pre-election environment in the country on August 20.
In the frame of three-day visit, the Delegation met representatives of the government, opposition parties, international and nongovernmental organizations, Interagency Task Force and members of the Parliament of Georgia.
According to the Civil Georgia, a three-day visit of the OSCE Mission to Georgia aimed at assessing the country’s pre-election climate. The mission was led by former foreign minister of Croatia Tonino Picula and also included OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s President Riccardo Migliori; OSCE PA Secretary General Spencer Oliver and director of OSCE PA presidential administration Roberto Montella.
During the visit the mission met with representatives of the ruling party; opposition; election administration, as well as media and civil society representatives and members of the international community in Tbilisi.
“We welcome positive amendments to the election system of Georgia and pre-election effort that aims to ensure accuracy of the voters’ list, provide transparency in campaign finance, and expand media accessibility throughout the country, but we do not want to remain blind at problems in the country. We discussed those problems with almost every party. We observe some problems – it might be partiality in the activities of law enforcement institutions, mainly it can be State Audit Service. We discussed the activities of these institutions with experts and interested parties and warned them that they are acting with “unclear” instructions. Another issue of our concern is the judiciary. We wish to see activities with clear and less partial instructions and neutral interference in various issues. There is enough time to eradicate these problems. We observe huge polarization of the society. We might be mistaken but political rivals, governmental officials and opposition parties apparently do not share equal values. We want to witness the election which will be celebration of democracy in Georgia,” Tonino Picula said.
He added that the mission members will continue monitoring of the issues which cause particular concern of the mission and will watch the ongoing process.
“We have seen a growing political polarization in the country. We are particularly concerned by the practice of certain law enforcement institutions in Georgia. In our view, the State Audit Office is using broad discretionary authority to investigate the legality of individual or party spending and making questionable decisions and imposing harsh penalties without clear or transparent guidelines. The fines levied are disproportionate and apparently being applied in a selective manner mainly targeting one political subject,” the head of OSCE PA Pre-Election Mission stated and added: “A fair and independent judiciary system is also fundamental to ensure the conduct of free and fair elections. After this visit, we have concerns as to the possibility of receiving proper legal remedy from the court system.”
OSCE PA President Riccardo Migliori said: “In the final weeks of this campaign I hope the Georgian authorities commit to a credible election and help create a level playing field for all parties.” In addition to that, Migliori detects signs of Leninism in the ongoing election campaign in Georgia.
“We had important adventure in this country that is related with pre-election monitoring. These elections have great importance for your future. The elections should be another important moment in Europe. This is the goal of the governmental and opposition parties. There is a little part of Leninism in this electoral campaign. They don’t present programs but try to destroy rivals. There are no enemies in this society. Political parties shall necessarily present their programs and ideas to population. Georgia is an important nation, important place in the Caucasus; it is beacon of Democracy and we are here to make this beacon more important,” Ricardo Migliori said after the August 22 meeting with Davit Bakradze, chair of the Parliament of Georgia.
Concern of Co- Rapporteurs from OSCE PA Mission
It is noteworthy that before the members of the OSCE PA Pre-Election Mission expressed their concern, the co-rapporteurs made statement where the excessive and disproportionate fines imposed on opposition parties by State Audit Office were strictly criticized.
According to the official website of the CoE, PACE rapporteurs for Georgia express concern about financial actions against the Georgian Dream coalition. Co-rapporteurs from Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on honouring Georgia’s obligations expressed concern over seizure of bank accounts of political parties within the Georgian Dream opposition coalition and said that “disproportionate fines” levied by the State Audit Office “effectively undermine normal political activity by an opposition party.”
The two co-rapporteurs, Michael Aastrup Jensen of Denmark and Boriss Cilevičs of Latvia, said in a statement on August 21, that seizure of the Georgian Dream’s bank accounts was undermining the opposition coalition’s participation in the election campaign for the October 1 parliamentary polls. “The excessive and disproportionate fines levied by the State Audit Service effectively undermine normal political activity by an opposition party,” the statement reads.
“This is of concern, especially in the context of recurrent allegations of bias of the State Audit Service and reports by credible organisations, such as the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, that question the fairness of the court decisions in this respect,” the co-rapporteurs said.
“The rationale for campaign funding legislation is to ensure a level playing field between all electoral contestants, and not to drive one party or the other out of the electoral race.”
“The upcoming elections, and their democratic conduct, are crucial for Georgia’s democratic development. We therefore call upon the Georgian authorities to demonstrate maximum restraint and to ensure that all parties, including the Georgian Dream Coalition, can participate fully in the electoral campaign,” the statement reads.
The two co-rapporteurs plan to visit Georgia on September 11-12 as part of the pre-electoral mission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
National Bureau of Enforcement Woke Up
After the co-rapporteurs of the PACE expressed their concerns, the National Bureau of Enforcement (NBE) has “postponed” collection of GEL 2.85 million fine, which was imposed on six political parties united in Bidzina Ivanishvili-led Georgian Dream opposition coalition, the Georgian Justice Ministry said late on August 22.
“Up to date, only a small portion of the fine, GEL 122,000, has been collected by the NBE, without freezing any account,” Justice Ministry’s statement reads. “Nevertheless, following the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Free and Fair Elections and consultations with the State Audit Office of Georgia, who is the creditor in the case, the NBE has decided to postpone the enforcement of the Tbilisi Court Decision,” the statement of the Ministry of Justice reads.
Spokesperson of the National Movement MP Chiora Taktakishvili connected the critical evaluation of the OSCE PA Mission about pre-election situation in the country with “their inaccurate information provided by the lobbyists of concrete political parties.” The ruling party had the same reaction about the statement of the PACE rapporteurs. In his interview with Radio Liberty, member of the Georgian Delegation in the PACE Giorgi Kandelaki stated that co-rapporteurs were mislead like several other people.
Similar comments made by the representatives of the parliamentary majority demonstrate the readiness of the government to consider the concern of international observers and civil society, to change repressive politics and create normal pre-election environment in the country.