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PACE Monitors Lay Out Pre-Election Observations

Political schism and polarised political debate risk undermining the credibility of the upcoming presidential elections, and its outcome, in the eyes of the Georgian public, a monitoring group from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has warned.

The PACE pre-election delegation, led by Hungarian lawmaker Matyas Eörsi, visited Tbilisi on December 5-7. The delegation, also including lawmakers from Albania, Estonia and Azerbaijan, met with the Georgian leadership, some presidential contenders and civil society and mass media representatives.

In a statement issued on December 7, the group said that the consolidation of democracy in Georgia was “until recently notable.” The events in November, involving the break up of an anti-government demonstration and the closure of Imedi, have however “seriously damaged this process,” it said.

The delegation said that restoring confidence in democratic processes in the run-up to the presidential elections was the joint responsibility of all political forces in Georgia.

“The delegation therefore calls upon electoral contestants to stop questioning the credibility of these elections, and its outcome, before they take place, but instead work to resolve any shortcomings found. Genuine democratic elections, and public confidence in them, are in the common interest of all political forces, and indeed of the country itself,” the statement reads.

Most opposition politicians have already warned about, what they perceive as, early signs of possible ballot fraud by the authorities. In response, the authorities have been accusing the opposition of “pre-determining” the results of the election, assuming it will be unfair. They have accused the opposition of being more focused on post-election protests than the election itself.

The PACE delegation said that democratic elections demand “a level playing field between all electoral contestants.”

“And this is an area of concern for the delegation,” it said in the statement. “The alleged use of state resources and active involvement of central and local state officials in all levels of the campaign of the former President raise the spectre of abuse of administrative resources. Even if it is within the limits of the law, the delegation would like to remind the governmental authorities that they have the responsibility to ensure that the public perceives the campaign as fair between all participants.”

The delegation also pointed out that there were “too many” allegations of intimidation and pressure. “The law enforcement bodies should repeatedly make it publicly clear that any allegations of violations will be investigated,” it said.

The PACE monitors also said it was “undeniable that the current news coverage is dominated by the campaign of the former President,” Mikheil Saakashvili.

It also warned that the accuracy of voter lists “continues to be of concern.”

The delegation gave a somewhat cautious assessment of the decision to allow additional voter lists on polling day. On the one hand it said the delegation had “some concerns” regarding the practice, but on the other hand it added: “It accepts that they [additional lists] will be used for these elections.”

Voter registration on polling day itself was approved by Parliament on November 22 with amendments to the election code. Election watchdog organizations, as well as the opposition, have warned that it will increase the risk of ballot fraud. Opponents fear that the rule will be used for what is popularly known as ‘merry-go-round’ voting, whereby an individual casts several ballots in different polling stations.

“The CEC should adopt adequate provisions to prevent [additional voter lists] being used as an avenue for multiple voting,” the PACE delegation said.

The delegation also noted the concerns expressed about the possible threat to ballot secrecy posed by the installation of video cameras in every polling station. CCTV cameras are being proposed for the registration desk and the ballot box of every polling station.

“Secrecy of the vote – and equally the perception of secrecy of the vote – is crucial for democratic elections,” the PACE delegation said. “The CEC should take all measures necessary, including proper voter education, to ensure that voters cast their ballot in absolute secrecy.”

PACE will in January send a 30 strong cross-party delegation to observe the early presidential polls.


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