“Professional” Election Commission Fails to Receive Opposition’s Confidence

The construction of a new Central Election Commission (CEC) was promptly interpreted by the opposition parties as a signal of anticipated election fraud by the government, while the authorities and the ruling National Movement party describe the new CEC as a meaningful vehicle for holding genuinely free and fair elections.

The Parliament approved on June 3 seven members of the new Central Election Commission. Gia Kavtaradze was approved with 147 votes to 0 as the Chairman of the CEC. According to newly passed amendments to the election code, members of the CEC should not be affiliated with any political party. Previously, the CEC was composed solely of representatives of the political parties. Officials say that an election commission based on professionalism and not party-membership will be more committed to the election code rather than to the interests of their respective political parties.

But the parliamentarians from the opposition parties, which boycotted voting, claim that this principle was violated and accused most of the new members of the CEC of having links either to the government or the ruling party.

Gia Kavtaradze, the new Chairman of the CEC, is the former secretary of the Justice Council who later in 2002 founded the legal and financial consulting firm DVNK together with Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli and Chairman of government of the Adjara Autonomous Republic Levan Varshalomidze.

The six other members of the new CEC are: Emzar Pazhava, former Deputy Governor of the Samegrelo region; Lukhum Burjaliani, who previously worked as a senior lawyer at the Georgian Parliament’s Apparatus; Guram Chagalashvili, a lawyer at the CEC; Giorgi Areshidze, a professor at Tbilisi State University; Gizo Mchedlidze, unemployed according to his official nomination paper; and Alexander Gongadze, a senior fellow at the Georgian Institute of Physics, the Georgian Academy of Science.

The process for selecting the members of the CEC was also a subject of criticism by the opposition parties. Nominations were selected from those 515 persons who applied for CEC membership after the authorities announced an open competition on May 11.

The selection was carried out by a special commission chaired by Chief of the President’s Administration Gigi Ugulava. Then President Saakashvili proposed short-list of 12 nominations, plus one nominee for the CEC Chairmanship to the Parliament for consideration.

The opposition complained that this selection process was under the full supervision of the authorities, which eventually resulted in the setting up of a “one-party CEC,” meaning that the election commission is under the full control of ruling National Movement party.

“By doing so, the government told us directly: ‘we are going to rig the elections’,” MP Levan Berdzenishvili from the opposition Republican Party said.

Parliamentarians from the National Movement denied these accusations and alleged that the opposition has nothing to say, as they are already sure about their failure in the elections.

“We, the government and the ruling party, fully acknowledge that the holding of democratic elections is our responsibility and we will hold free and fair elections. Our opponents might say that the previous government was also making statements like this. But the difference is that now we already know what might happen in the event of ballot rigging,” Giga Bokeria, an influential MP from the National Movement party, said on June 3 referring to the 2003 Rose Revolution, which was triggered by the rigging of November 2, 2003 parliamentary elections.

Discussions of the CEC membership nominations was one of those rare cases wherein a small group of opposition parliamentarians from the New Rights, Conservatives and Republican parties, joined by one member from the Labor Party, showed their unity and jointly walked out shortly before the voting on these nominations took place. 

The nearest nationwide elections in Georgia, the local elections, will be held in autumn, 2006. But the opposition parties announced on June 4 that they will offer the first test to the new CEC much earlier.

Leaders of the opposition Republicans and Conservative parties, as well as from the public movement ‘Forum for Welfare and Democracy’, met on June 4 and announced that they launch a petition of Georgian citizens in an attempt to convince the authorities to hold a referendum to find out whether the voters want direct elections of city Mayors and regional Governors.

Currently, the Mayors of both the capital city Tbilisi and Poti are appointed by the President, like all regional Governors. Recently, the authorities proposed that Mayors be indirectly elected by elected City Councils.

The opposition parties should apply to CEC with a request to appoint a referendum, after they collect 200,000 voter signatures. MP Davit Berdzenishvili, the leader of Republican Party, said that this appeal by the opposition parties will be “the first test for the new CEC.”

But there are other elections on the agenda as well. On April 15 the opposition Republican Party demanded that the authorities immediately appoint a date for MP by-elections in Kobuleti, Batumi and Shuakhev, individual constituencies in the Adjara Autonomous Republic, as well as in the Tkibuli constituency in western Georgia. The Republic Party claims that the authorities are intentionally dragging-out the calling of by-elections, as they fear that the ruling National Movement party may lose these races, especially in Adjara where the Republican Party’s positions are relatively stronger than in other parts of Georgia.


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