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Pro-Russian Party, Whose TV Ad Sparked Outcry, Banned from Election

August 20, 2016
 Civil Georgia

A fringe pro-Russian party, which became known to a wider public after its campaign TV ad, pledging “legalizing” Russian military bases in Georgia, drew quick and widespread condemnation, has been banned from running in the October 8 parliamentary elections on the procedural grounds not related, at least formally, to party’s controversial ad.

Chairperson of the Central Election Commission (CEC), Tamar Zhvania, canceled the registration of political party, Centrists, on August 16 – a day after the Justice Ministry’s Public Registry said that the party has no authorized leadership.

The Centrists party, which was founded in 2002, was actually defunct up until late May 2016, when its leaders decided to reactivate it.

The Public Registry said in a written statement on August 15 that it holding of Centrists party’s assembly in late May and election of its chairman was not in line with the party’s regulations. Public Registry said it notified the party about it on June 2 and gave the party ten days to address the “shortcoming”; but instead of addressing the issue, the party filed a complaint with the Public Registry claiming there was no irregularity. The Public Registry said that it reviewed the complaint, but decided on August 1 to reject it. 
“Therefore, as of today the party Centrists… has no leadership and authorized representative,” the Public Registry said on August 15.

The Public Registry released this statement after widespread outrage, which was caused by Centrists’ 10-second campaign ad in which it pledged “Russian pension of GEL 400 to every pensioner. Adoption of law on dual [Russian-Georgian] citizenship… [and] legalization of Russian military bases” in Georgia.

The ad was aired by the Georgian Public Broadcaster, which is obligated by the law to give free airtime for campaign ads to political parties during the pre-election period. The public broadcaster had to stop running the ad after the public outcry.

CEC Chairperson, Tamar Zhvania, said on August 16 that she decided to deregister the Centrists party from elections based on the information provided by the Public Registry.

She said that the CEC learned about it only after the Public Registry released a written statement on August 15.

Meanwhile several parties are in race for lodging a complaint with the Constitutional Court to demand an outright ban of the Centrists party, claiming that it’s declared polices are anti-constitutional, which pose threat to Georgia’s national interests.

After the Republican Party first announced intention to file such lawsuit in the Constitutional Court, the ruling GDDG party also said it was preparing a separate complaint, and then UNM opposition party also followed suit.

The party, Centrists, is led by Temur Khachishvili and Lado Bedukadze.

Temur Khachishvili was Georgia’s interior minister in 1992-1993. He was also one of the leading figures in notorious Mkhedrioni paramilitary group, disbanded in 1995 after an attack against then Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze. Khachishvili was convicted in 1995 for organizing this terrorist act; he was released from jail in July, 2002 after then President Shevardnadze pardoned him.

Several months after he was pardoned, Khachishvili launched a pro-Russian political party, Datvi (Bear), which failed to gain any significant role in country’s political scene. Several months after the change of government as a result of the Rose Revolution, Khachishvili was detained briefly in spring 2004 on charges related to illegal arms possession after which he left for Russia.

Khachishvili’s name resurfaced in 2011 when members of an alleged armed group were detained amid anti-government street protest rallies in Tbilisi; the Interior Ministry claimed at the time that the group was acting upon Khachishvili’s instructions. Khachishvili returned from Russia back to Georgia in late 2012, after the Georgian Dream coalition came into government.

Another leader of the Centrists party is Lado Bedukadze, a former prison officer who in 2013 was standing trial into the case of prison abuse scandal, which broke out couple of weeks before the October 2012 parliamentary elections after videos of inmates’ torture emerged. But unlike other co-defendants in the same trial, Bedukadze, who filmed some those of videos, managed to escape conviction after then Chief Prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili’s much-criticized decision in 2013 to release him from criminal liability.