Rather than adopting further amendments to the current election code, the Parliament could enact a new code in the near future and at least one year ahead of the next nationwide election, Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal issues, Venice Commission, has recommended.
“Adoption of a new Code can help systematise and streamline the provisions, as well as eliminate ambiguities and inconsistencies between the Code’s various articles, which possibly have resulted from frequent amendments in the past years,” it said.
“This new code could take into account past and the present recommendations made by OSCE/ODIHR and the Venice Commission. This would be best accomplished through an open and transparent process of consultation with key election stakeholders that aims to reach a broad consensus.”
The Venice Commission has reviewed the Georgian election code as amended in December, 2009 and March, 2010. The Commission released its opinion on the matter on June 9.
According to the opinion the election code with its recent amendments “is generally conducive to the conduct of democratic elections and addresses a number of previous recommendations”.
It, however, also says that “serious concerns remain as some provisions fall short” of international standards. According to the Venice Commission the text of the code is “ambiguous” and “lacks clarity in some areas.”
Restriction on the active and passive suffrage rights is in the list of concerns identified by the Venice Commission.
The code bans independent candidates to run for parliamentary seat or for membership in the town councils during the local elections. Only a party or an election bloc is eligible to nominate candidates.
The Venice Commission, as well as OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which is active in the field of election observation, recommended Georgia to reinstates the possibility for independent candidates to run in the elections.
The Commission has also recommended amending the election code provision, which bans convicts to take part in elections. “The right to vote is a fundamental human right, which means that only convictions for specifically identified serious criminal offences should lead to suspension of voting rights,” the Venice Commission said.
The Venice Commission also addresses problem related with blurring the line between the state and political parties. The election code allows use of administrative resources for campaign purposes, but it says that the resources should be accessible equally for all the parties and candidates.
“On the face of it, this provision appears to adhere to the equal opportunity principle. However, in practice such equality may quickly be undermined as political parties in government have easier access to such resources (government facilities, telephones, computers, and vehicles),” the Venice Commission said.
“The Election Code should expressly prohibit direct or indirect use of all types of administrative resources – financial, material, technical, and human resources – for campaign purposes by election subjects, public officials, or other campaigners,” it said.
The Commission welcomed amendment, which bans the authorities to launch any additional social and welfare programs during an electoral campaign apart from those envisaged in their annual budgets
Echoing OSCE/ODIHR’s recommendations, the Venice Commission called on Georgia to also amend current system of division of single-mandate election districts, as currently they are not of equal or comparable size, “thus failing to guarantee one of the main principles of electoral rights - equality of the vote.”
In the May, 2008 parliamentary elections the number of voters in election districts ranged from 6,000 to 140,000 voters, resulting in a situation, wherein one candidate might be elected by 1,800 votes and another, running in a separate larger district, might require 70,000 votes.
The Commission has also recommended reducing “overly long” residency requirement for candidates in local elections, which was increased from two to five years, as a result of recent amendments.
It also calls on Georgia to remove from the election code a provision, which allows use of CCTV cameras at polling stations with the purpose of prevention of violations and to then verify claims on possible violations.
“This provision is problematic. The use of recording devices in the polling station, even if it does not infringe on the secrecy of the ballot, may appear to do so and can also intimidate some voters,” the Venice Commission said.
Ahead of the May 30 local elections the Central Election Commission decided to reduce number of those polling stations by 200 where video cameras were installed, citing recommendations from the international community.
The Venice Commission also recommended prohibiting any type of campaigning during the last 24 hours prior to election day and banning campaigning and campaign materials in and around polling stations on election day.