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Candidates for MP Are Busy Bribing Voters

April 29, 2008

Gela Mtivlishvili, Kakheti

Bribing of voters is prohibited by both the Election Code and the Criminal Code. However, candidates for Majoritarian MP, mostly from United National Movement (the leading party) are freely giving out presents to voters. Similar acts have been revealed by local and central TV companies almost everyday; however no criminal case has been launched yet.

Levan Bezhashvili, Regional Governor, introduced Petre Tsiskarishvili, the candidate for MP to the residents of the Akhmeta District. Within the Pre-election campaign Bezhashvili and Tsiskarishvili presented residents of the Pankisi Valley with a bus that will enable the locals to travel to neighboring districts. In addition, the passengers will have to pay only 30 tetri instead of the previous price of 2 GEL.

Like Tsiskarishvili, Gia Arsenishvili, a candidate for MP in Telavi District from the United National Movement, also presented locals with a bus. Former State Minister during Shevardnadze’s presidency visited the village of Kondolo in Telavi District together with local authorities. They traveled to the village by bus. The visitors gave out free tickets for the municipality transport to those mothers with many children, as well as blind people. At the end of the meeting, Gia Arsenishvili asked the villagers to vote for him and promised to supply the village with gas in exchange of their support.

Wells for drinking water are being dug in several villages in Kvareli District with money allocated from the district budget. Candidate for MP, Zaza Gelashvili along with the district authorities also attended the meeting with the residents of the villages of Gavazi and Sanavardo. As he stated to the voters, the wells are being dug according to his initiative and if the villagers vote for him at the parliamentary elections every village will be supplied with water.

On April 26, Nugzar Abulashvili, a candidate for MP from the leading party, gave the Russian population of the village of Ulianovka sweets and other presents during the Easter Holiday. Several days earlier, on behalf of candidate Baadur Baidoshvili, the representative of the district authority to Ulianovka distributed ten kilos of wheat to the residents of the villages of Magharo and Ulianovka.

What restrictions are stipulated in the legislation? Can distribution of food products and a bus be considered a bribery of voters? We have asked these questions to Lela Taliuri, the head of the Telavi Office of the Young Lawyers’ Association.

“It is important to note that our legislation prohibits similar activities. If a candidate breaches the conditions of the law, the Election Code states that similar candidate shall not be registered; but if s/he is already registered, it shall be cancelled,” said Lela Taliuri.

Article 73, paragraph IX-“a” of the Georgian Election Code states: “it is forbidden for election subjects and their representatives to personally, or through someone else, transfer to voters money, gifts and other items of material value, to sell them goods at privileged prices, to supply free-of-charge or disseminate any goods, except for the agitation materials envisaged by this Law, as well as to cause the interest of voters by promising to transfer them money, securities and other items of material value.”

According to the same Article, paragraph 9, “election subjects and their representatives to carry out personally, or through someone else the activities prohibited by the Article 73, Paragraph 9, registration of the election subject is cancelled by court decision.” Lela Taliuri states that the above-mentioned illegal activities can serve as the basis for not registering an MP candidate or annulling his/her current registration. Moreover, if the fact is proved, the bid of an election candidate can also be canceled from the elections. In this case this election candidate is the “United National Movement – For Winning Georgia” and it can be demanded to confiscate registration of this election subject.

On April 22, 2008 The “Georgian Young Lawyers Association” (GYLA) lodged an appeal to the Tbilisi City Court and demanded the abolition of the registration of the “United National Movement – For Winning Georgia”. On April 24, 2008 the court passed its verdict, thus not satisfying the appeal of GYLA. It was mentioned in the court verdict that despite Paragraph 9 of Article 73 of the Organic Law of Georgia “Election Code of Georgia” forbids transferring money, presents or other valuable objects to the citizens of Georgia, the court considered that this law imposed restrictions if only the transfer was conducted to win the votes and the support of citizens. In this case the court decided that the provision of cheap souvenirs could not be considered as activity that demonstrates a candidate’s attempts to gain victory in the upcoming election.

The lawyers of GYLA appealed the verdict of Tbilisi City Court in the Tbilisi Court of Appeals. However, the TCA board did not change the initial decision made by the TCC.

Bribing the electorate is a felony. Article 161 of the Election Code of Georgia prescribes a one year imprisonment for this crime. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia states that no one has addressed law enforcing bodies with the request to investigate acts of voter bribing, thus no criminal case has been launched.