Party funding regulations, introduced in late December, will be amended in a way to provide specific clarifications that the legislation does not restrict “legitimate activities” of civil society groups and western donors working on political parties’ development programs, senior ruling party lawmakers say.
“On the one hand goals of the law should not be harmed and on the other hand the non-governmental organizations should have a sense that this law will in no way restrict their legitimate activities,” Davit Bakradze, the parliamentary chairman, said on March 5.
The planned amendments, which are not expected to revise key aspects of the controversial legislation such as a ban on corporate funding, will be designed in an attempt to soothe concerns of election watchdog and legal advocacy groups, which have been actively campaigning recently in favor of amending the law. To highlight one of their key concerns that restrictions set by the legislation apply to broad circle of organizations and individuals, the campaign has been named “This Affects You Too”.
The campaigners drafted their version of amendments and submitted them to the Parliament for consideration, which was then followed by a meeting with senior ruling party MP Pavle Kublashvili last week.
Campaigners’ draft of legislative amendments aim at narrowing and specifying circle of entities, which may fall under the regulation of the party funding legislation. Although there is one provision in the law on political parties, which says that restrictions envisaged by that law cannot be used against freedom of expression and civil engagement, critics say it is not an enough guarantee and ambiguity of the law gives way for broad interpretation of other provisions of the law.
“Consultations will continue this week too and as a result we will reach a decision about what kind of formulations should be written in the law. I hope that non-governmental organizations will also show rational and constructive approach and it will be possible to reach an agreement,” said Parliamentary Chairman Davit Bakradze on March 5.
Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM), a leading party in the small parliamentary minority group, has recently complained that because of ambiguity of the law CDM was facing difficulties to continue cooperation with some of the European foundations working on political party development and assistance programs.
Parliamentary Chairman Davit Bakradze said, that the law was not restricting operations of donors working on institutional and democracy development programs, but in order to provide additional guarantees a specific and clear provision would be added to the law to address the issue.
“Our goal is to remove all the question marks about that,” Bakradze said.
Campaigners against the legislation are also concerned about what they say is broad discretional authority of the Chamber of Control – the state audit agency in charge of monitoring political finances. Campaigners want the law to set clear criteria and procedures based on which the state audit agency will be taking its decisions in respect of such issues like imposing fines or impounding an entity’s property. They also want to decrease fines imposed in case of violation of provision of the law.
The campaigners also want to change a provision in the criminal code which envisages fine or imprisonment for up to three years for accepting inducements, involving money or any other kind of benefit for political purposes. This provision applies to the cases if a person accepts such inducements knowingly.
The group says that its campaign was broader than just about only changing the party funding legislation and it aim at more ambitious goal to improve the entire electoral environment in the country ahead of the parliamentary elections in October. The campaigners said that after tackling the party funding legislation they would then focus on amending the electoral code. The ruling party lawmakers have said for number of times that the electoral code passed in December would not face any major amendments.
The package of new amendments to the law on political parties on which the ruling party is now working may to also include a proposal on allocating additional state funding for some political parties; the proposal was voiced by the ruling party in January.