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CEC and Georgian Parliament: No to Transparent Elections

April 14, 2008

 Soso Papuashvili
Nona Suvariani, Tbilisi

The Central Election Commission (CEC) is trying to limit the transparency of the upcoming elections. The amendment adopted by the Parliament on March 21 has this aim in mind. Under the conditions of this amendment, tapes from the video cameras in the polling stations will no longer be made publicly available.

Pavle Kublashvili, head of the Committee of Regional Politics, Committee for Self-government and Mountain Regions is the initiator of this amendment. It was introduced into the Part 10 of the Article 1298 of the Georgian Election Code of the Organic Law of Georgia. According to this amendment, the number of people who have access to tapes from the video cameras and the time of seeing these tapes will be further limited.
“Every person who has the right to be in the polling station during the parliamentary election can request seeing the video tape from the video camera that is installed in this polling station. This person must submit a petition/claim and indicate the exact time of submitting the claim and the exact time when the alleged violation occurred. The submitter of the petition/claim has the right to request only a 15-minute video tape. The exact time of violation must be specified in the claim as well as the description of the violation,” states the amendment introduced in the Election Code of Georgia.

This amendment deprives the Office of Public Defender, a neutral institution from the ability to view the video tapes. Interesting information: amendment adopted on March 21 was preceded by almost 2-month-long requests of the Public Defender for seeing a video tape. It is indicated in the official statement of the Public Defender that the representatives of the CEC had been trying their best to lay obstacles to the Public Defender to prevent him from seeing the tapes.

The reasons for these obstacles were then justified by Levan Tarkhnishvili, head of the CEC. He said that it was impossible to make the copy of the video tapes, as the original tapes were the only evidence and therefore could not be touched. Tarkhnishvili suggested seeing the tapes in the office of the CEC, but the representatives of the Public Defender had no access to the tapes, even in the venue of the CEC.

“Only after two months of consciously procrastinating the time of conveying the video tapes when there were no reasons left for not providing the tapes, on March 10, 2008 the head of the CEC officially answered the request of the Public Defender indicating that the requested materials would be sent within a week. Tough there was an official agreement between the CEC and the Office of the Public Defender the employees of the CEC consciously were creating roadblocks in making copies of the video tapes available.

When the representatives made copies of the tapes from 12 randomly selected polling stations and started studying them in the CEC, they were refused the opportunity to make copies of the tapes from other precincts,” is said in the official statement of the Public Defender.

By some mere coincidence following these events, the Parliament decided to introduce amendments to the Election Code of Georgia …

Apparently, Tarkhnishvili forgot about an earlier statement that he had made: “The video cameras, one of them will shoot the ballot box and the other, the table of the registrar who gives voting papers, which will enable us to hold transparent and democratic elections. The video tapes would have served as additional evidence during court proceeding.” However, these words become moot as the amendment dramatically limits the number of people who have access to the tapes.

Georgian Young Lawyers Association shares the protest of the Public Defender against the amendment. The organization considers that the deplorable situation will only get worst as a result of the amendment.

Vakhtang Khmaladze, an expert, states that these restrictions infringe human’s political rights and general principle of election transparency.

“I think that any rule that restricts the inspection whether the election was fair or not, restricts the above-mentioned rights and principles. It is obvious that imposing the rule that provides for only 15 minutes of video tape is a ploy to limit the ability to discover violations. As you know, the process of voting lasts 12 hours. It is impossible to define the 15 minutes when the violation actually happened, as many violations can be seen during these 12 hours. Therefore, this kind of restriction is incomprehensible.”

Soso Papuashvili, the lawyer of Human Rights Center (HRIDC) and the coordinator of the January 5, 2008 snap presidential election observers of HRIDC talks about the arguments that the government might bring while talking about the necessity of enacting the amendment.

“There is always some tension in post election period. The political parties that lose the election based on preliminary or final results of the election and will always try to create unstable political situation and to influence the society. They will use various methods to achieve these goals. Therefore, it is necessary to protect the legitimacy of election and safeguard the election from various political groups. It is necessary to set definite time for counting of election results. It means that if the election has been held and the results have been announced, the results must be considered as final after a definite period has transpired.  There must be no chance for revising the results with no end in sight. It is necessary to impose rules so that the political groups will have no chance of checking the results, as they will always try to use this chance and consequently, the date of announcing the final results will be cancelled endlessly and the chaotic situation will be created.”

Despite of such arguments, Soso Papuashvili considers that the restrictions must have any bearing on the Public Defender. The amendment to the Election Code deteriorates the situation, and raises serious concerns about the possibility of falsifying the election, and such fears already exists within society.  When the amendment is enacted, the most important election violation so called “karuseli” (when one person votes in different polling stations), which is popular throughout Georgia will no longer be visible.

Soso Papuashvili: “Video cameras shoot procedural violations as well as “Karusels”. It is absurd to give the right of seeing only 15 minutes of video records, as our basic problem is “Karuseli” when the same person votes in various polling stations. It is impossible to check if there was multiple voting with the right to see only 15 minutes of a video tape.”

Soso Papuashvili has the experience of election monitoring of more than 10 years. He says that he had never seen the violations on such a large scaled as was experienced during the last presidential election. “When there are some doubts in the society about the transparency and objectivity of the election the government must make concessions rather than imposing more restrictions in order to lay aside the doubts of the society.”