On 18 August, the ruling Georgian Dream party chose not to invite one of the most influential civil society organizations working on elections, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), to the first meeting of the electoral reforms working group meant to develop the legislative changes necessary for EU candidate status. Georgian Dream cited the “loss of neutrality” by the organization, as the reason.
The decision was criticized by both the civil society sector and the opposition. Among them, the CSO Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), which was invited to participate, left the meeting in protest.
Georgian Dream’s Argument
Givi Mikanadze, the first Deputy Chairperson of the ruling party and the head of the electoral reforms group, explained while he “personally” made the decision not to invite ISFED, his stance is shared by all of Georgian Dream.
“It is impossible for an organization that questions the legitimacy of this government, calls for the government’s dismissal, [and] the formation of a technical government, to join this legitimate process…,” he said.
MP Mikanadze added that only those civil society organizations which “maintain neutrality” should be involved in the working process and emphasized that “[ISFED] have lost this neutrality.”
ISFED responded to the ruling party’s decision with an official statement released on the same day, which explained that “the government’s attitude is a direct demarche against ISFED and the civil sector as a whole, despite their constructive position and willingness to engage in working groups.”
The organization believes that the “removal of the professional organization from the process actually indicates the creation of the working group as a formality, the purpose of which, instead of improving electoral legislation and fulfilling the recommendations of the European Commission, is to prolong the process and create the illusion of readiness in fulfilling the recommendations.”
“This decision by Georgian Dream, at such a crucial moment for Georgia’s future, is against the country’s national interests,” the CSO underscored, and added that they “consider such a position of the ruling party to be a limitation on civil society, which significantly harms the country’s European integration process.”
ISFED’s statement also pointed out that the involvement of civil society is a key part of the recommendations put forth by the EU. “However, the ruling party did not allow all willing organizations to work on reforms in the desired direction, since they accounted for only 2 spots for [CSOs] in each working group.”
“The organization does not plan to deviate from the chosen path and will continue to work for the promotion to the centuries-old aspiration of the Georgian people – Western integration,” ISFED emphasized.
GYLA Refuses Participation
GYLA’s chairperson Nika Simonishvili left the working group in protest and stressed that he will not participate in meetings “where my colleagues are discriminated against.”
Per his assessment, with such a decision, “the government is trying to directly interfere in the activities of civil society, which is absolutely unacceptable and inadmissible.” “This has nothing to do with the process that the European Union is asking of us. This directly contradicts the recommendations of the European Union and essentially damages this process,” Simonishvili added.
Simonishvili assessed the ruling party’s decision to represent the “persecution” of ISFED and added that “it was and is necessary for ISFED to participate in this working group.”
According to United National Movement MP Roman Gotsiridze, not inviting ISFED to the meeting was a kind of “provocation” by Georgian Dream. “They will find an excuse against any non-governmental organization and if they don’t like their position, they will kick everyone out of these groups so that they will be left alone and do nothing,” he said, and added that the ruling party will not accept even “cosmetic changes.”
Anna Buchukuri, a member of ex-PM Giorgi Gakharia’s For Georgia party, said, “Unfortunately, Georgian Dream sometimes manages to use the actions and decisions of some opposition parties for its own purposes.” “And why should we give Georgian Dream an additional argument to use something for its own sake, I, unfortunately, do not understand,” she added.
Paata Manjgaladze, Strategy Aghmashenebeli MP, believes that the ruling party’s decision not to invite an organization that is “an authority in the direction of elections” “indicates the government’s intention that they need a farce and not a real, working process, this is all an illustration of that.”
“As the deadline for implementing the recommendations approaches, you will more illustrations and farces on the part of Georgian Dream, that they will not take fundamental steps in any direction,” MP Manjgaladze added.
“The [Georgian] Dream just doesn’t want to work seriously on anything. This is a kind of prelude to making the participants [of the working group] lose their patience and radicalize them…,” said Girchi MP Iago Khvichia.
Citizens’ MP Levan Ioseliani noted that ISFED has never voiced political demands and that someone’s attendance at any gathering, “is not sufficient reason to ban such a large organization from attending any electoral group meetings.”
Khatuna Samnidze, Republic Party MP asserted that the ruling party’s refusal to invite ISFED is “proof that Georgian Dream does not intend for the process to be inclusive but intends to have only its own associates in the process and to make decisions along its own, one-party views.”
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