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Watchdog Groups on Draft of New Electoral Code
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 3 Oct.'11 / 13:46

Draft of new election code, proposed last month by the ruling party, fails to introduce “substantial changes for improving election environment” ahead of the next year’s parliamentary polls, three election watchdog groups said.

In some cases the draft “even worsens” existing electoral provisions, while some of the “unspecified norms complicate understanding of various formulations,” according to an analysis of the draft tabled jointly by International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED); Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) and Transparency International Georgia.

The draft of new electoral code, which is slated to replace the current code, amended for 46 times since its approval in 2001, before the end of this year, was submitted to the Parliament for consideration on September 19. Davit Bakradze, the parliamentary chairman, said that the draft would only be approved after the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal affairs, delivers its recommendations; meanwhile, he said, the draft was open for broad public discussions.

Key changes in the draft involve those provisions, which have been agreed between the ruling National Movement party and several opposition parties in late June, including, among others, increasing seats in Parliament from current 150 to 190 (also requiring a constitutional amendment, which has yet to be initiated) and party campaign funding. At the time the three election watchdog groups have criticized that electoral system reform deal and they have reiterated their criticism of the deal in the newly released opinion.

Among the areas triggering concerns of election observer groups in respect of other changes, proposed in the new draft, are issues related to, among others, transparency at polling stations and use of administrative resources.

The proposed draft no longer allows persons entitled to be inside the polling stations to carry out photo and video recording. “We consider that it is of a vital importance to return this norm in the code,” the three watchdog groups said.

A provision allowing use of CCTV cameras at polling stations with a purpose to prevent violations and to verify complaints on alleged violations is also removed from the draft of new code, like the provision on voter marking procedure on the election day.

The observer groups said that while in practice neither of these measures were effective, it would have been better to improve those provisions rather than completely abolishing them.

Last year the Venice Commission recommended removing from the code provision on video surveillance, describing it as “problematic”, arguing that 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 three groups, which have said they would not join a planned commission on voters list, reiterated in their joint opinion that it should be up to state agency, in particular the Civil Registry Agency, to form the unified voter list and the planned commission should only be limited to monitoring function.

In respect of the use of administrative resources, the observer groups said, the draft fails to address major problems; they said, that the draft even worsens existing provisions by adding provincial governors to the list of state officials entitled to participate in pre-election campaign

“We evaluate mentioned amendment negatively, since instead of decreasing the number of persons who are entitled to participate in pre-election campaign without limitation, their number has increased even more that comes in conflict with all recommendations made by local or international organizations with a view to improving election environment,” the watchdog groups said.

Like the existing code, the new draft allows use of administrative resources for campaign purposes, but it says that the resources should be accessible equally for all the parties and candidates. In its recommendations last year, the Venice Commission said that although “provision appears to adhere to the equal opportunity principle” in practice the governing party usually have easier access to such resource and for that reason the code “should expressly prohibit direct or indirect use of all types of administrative resources – financial, material, technical, and human resources.”

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