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CSOs: “Working on Electoral Reform Should Continue”

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A group of seven local civil society organizations, including International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, Transparency International Georgia and Open Society Foundation, call on the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG) party to continue working on electoral reform.

In a joint statement of August 20, CSOs named “a number of problematic issues,” put forward by GDDG, which if adopted, will have “a detrimental effect on the electoral environment ahead of the 2020 elections.”  

In particular, they refer to the ruling party proposed amendments which:

  • Prohibits election subjects to use hate speech without specifying what exactly will be considered as “hate speech”;
  • Restricts anti-advertisement to no more than 25% of the electoral subject ad clip;
  • Obliges broadcasters to verify compliance of political ad with law, otherwise fining broadcaster with double amount of ad rate.

“Regulations related to freedom of expression and media are especially alarming. A significant part of the proposed amendments leave impression that they are directed against freedom of expression and place unfair burden on media, which will clearly have a negative effect on the work of media outlets during the election period,” CSOs stated.

Regulation of hate speech

According to CSOs, the existing legislation does not provide definition of hate speech, therefore, “the proposed changes will cause confusion about meaning of the term, posing the risk of incorrect interpretation.”

They thus think that by imposing restrictions to hate speech, “it is highly likely that the prohibition will become means for limiting critical expression by political parties and other actors during the election campaign.”

CSOs also recalled incorrect interpretation of hate speech during the 2018 presidential polls, when a negative campaign against then candidate Salome Zurabishvili was evaluated as hate speech by ruling party members.

“In fact, hate speech that means racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic and similar statement targeting a certain group because of their particular characteristics, was less problematic during the previous elections and was used only a few times by politicians,” CSOs said, adding that Georgia’s Election Code already contains restrictions on the speech inciting national stifle and enmity, religious or ethnic confrontation.

Limiting anti-advertisement

The CSOs further explained that legislation allows anti-advertisement as a form of campaigning, therefore, limiting it to no more than 25% of an electoral subject ad clip “unfairly limits freedom of expression of political parties.”

It is up to a political party to decide what kind of campaigning it will have, how it will communicate with voters and to what extent it will use anti-advertisement,” CSOs said, noting that although using of anti-advertisement in election campaign is caused by “a low political culture and lack of ethical standards,” this may not become the reason for limiting freedom of expression.

According to CSOs, in practice it may be ambiguous how to measure adverse publicity, which may put pressure on media, as the draft law prescribes responsibility of a media outlet for violation of the requirements by an advertiser.

Imposing responsibility on media for contents of an ad

The CSOs also think that obliging broadcasters to verify contents of a political advertisement and not to air those that clearly violate the legislation will have “a chilling effect on media during election period.”

The proposed changes place unfair burden on media outlets on the one hand and on the other hand, they create a risk that a broadcaster will act as a censor. It is not unlikely that fearing sanctions, some broadcasters might refrain from airing political advertisements at all, which will increase the negative effect of the proposed regulation on the pre-election environment,” CSOs stated.

They find the proposed regulations as “unfair and unjustified to adopt,” as they will have “a negative effect on the pre-election environment and place limitations of freedom of expression deteriorating the existing high standard of free speech in Georgia.”

According to CSOs, the changes prepared by the ruling party “fail to address recommendations submitted by election observer organizations on such important matters as election administration composition, misuse of administrative resources, electoral disputes and campaigning regulations” as well.

Therefore, they call on the ruling party to continue working on electoral reform “to ensure that elections are held in an equal and competitive environment.”

The first meeting of the group working on electoral reform that is composed of the representatives of the ruling team, opposition parties, civil society and international organizations was held on June 13.

On June 24, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the chairman of the ruling party, announced that upcoming parliamentary elections in 2020 will be fully proportional with zero threshold. 

Ivanishvili’s announcement followed a four-day protest in Georgia, triggered by the Russian delegation’s presence at a session of the Inter-parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy in the parliament’s plenary chamber on June 20.

The Georgian Dream initiated relevant constitutional amendments in the Parliament on July 1. 

On August 5, the Parliament Chairman, Archil Talakvadze met with the group working on electoral reform and acquainted it with the amendments developed by the ruling Georgian Dream party to improve the electoral legislation.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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