Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the Georgian Dream opposition coalition, said “considering a fair and free election is already out of the question” because of continuing targeting of his coalition by the authorities; he listed six demands, which he said, if met would help to change the situation for better before the October 1 parliamentary polls.
- To stop enforcement of all Georgian Dream-related fines and sanctions;
- To strike off dozens of million GEL from Georgian Dream’s income and expenses;
- To provide conditions for Georgians living abroad to cast ballot, including through rescheduling election day if needed;
- Not to hinder distribution of satellite dish antennas;
- To have a seat for Georgian Dream representative in IATF;
- To set up mechanism for monitoring compliance with parties’ code of conduct;
In the appeal, Ivanishvili provides long list of cases from his citizenship issue to multi-million fines, which Ivanishvili says were used by the authorities “to persecute” him as a political opponent.
“All this created such an electoral environment in the country and impeded the coalition’s political activity to such a degree that considering a fair and free election is already out of the question,” reads the appeal. “If no significant changes take place in the actions of the government from today through election day, no free and fair election will be possible in Georgia.”
Speaking at a news conference after meeting with representatives from Tbilisi-based foreign embassies on August 30, Ivanishvili said that there was high probability that the authorities would not heed to his demands; he also expressed confidence that his demands would be shared by the international community.
“If they [the authorities] retreat and [rectify] at least part of these violations, we’ll take commitment that everything that has happened up to this day will be forgotten and if no new violations take place… we will recognize any [election] result – that’s what we declare with this appeal [to the international community],” Ivanishvili said.
If there is no significant change in the authorities’ actions and “if they don’t follow calls from the international community either, of course, neither we nor the international community will recognize these elections,” he said.
“In that case they [the authorities] will receive results worse than lost elections,” he continued. “They have no resources; what does he [Saakashvili] want? To be Gaddafi? He has neither internal nor external resources for that. Neither the Georgian police, nor the Georgian army will go against the people. We will not make calls for confrontation; we will defend votes of our supporters with legal means.”
Ivanishvili’s first demand is about stopping enforcement of fines and all the other sanctions initiated by the State Audit Office against the Georgian Dream, its supporters, Ivanishvili or entities affiliated to him. The Georgian Dream wants it to happen through applying the same method used in case when enforcement of GEL 2.85 million fine against six political parties within the Georgian Dream was postponed upon the recommendation of Inter-Agency task Force for Free and Fair Election.
The second demand is about removing from the Georgian Dream’s incomes and expenses all sums, the linkage of which to the coalition-member parties “has not been substantiated in any way, save the court decisions based on the speculations” of the State Audit Agency. The Georgian Dream argues that tens of millions of Lari were unjustifiably deemed by the State Audit Office as the coalition’s expanses, which, the coalition claims, might be used as a pretext by the authorities to disqualify the Georgian Dream after the elections and ban it from the Parliament. According to the State Audit Office, from November, 2011 to late July, 2012 Ivanishvili’s public movement and then his coalition spent total of GEL 24.57 million of which GEL 18.3 million, according to the state audit agency, was illegal expenditures. The annual spending cap for political parties is 0.2% of last year’s GDP, that is GEL 48.45 million this year.
The third demand is about ensuring all necessary conditions for Georgian citizens living abroad, which the Georgian Dream estimates to be 25% of voters, “to participate in the election even it requires to have the polling day rescheduled.” The election day, October 1, is Monday and the Georgian Dream says it will make harder for those living abroad and willing to cast ballot to go to polling stations to the Georgian consulates and embassies in their respective countries on a working day.
The fourth demand is to “remove immediately all obstacles made for the private companies to distribute satellite dishes among the population” to further increase public access to diverse source of information. The authorities have seized tens of thousands of satellite dishes imported by Tbilisi-based Maestro TV channel and Ivanishvili-affiliated Global TV company after alleging that satellite dishes were handed out free of charge, amounting to vote-buying in favor of the Georgian Dream.
The fifth demand is about having a permanent seat in the Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections, which is chaired by the Secretary of National Security Council Giga Bokeria and was established to react and prevent election-related violations. Political parties, which will notify the commission about alleged violations, have the right to take part in IATF’s sittings, according to the election code.
The sixth demand is about setting up of “an effective mechanism” with participation of international organizations to monitor political parties’ compliance with code of conduct proposed by a coalition of civil society and media organizations, This Affects You Too.
“None of our demands require constitutional changes or a long time to fulfill. It is all doable provided that you will be willing to address Saakashvili and categorically demand from him to stop exerting violence against his own people and make our electoral environment compatible with international standards at least to some extent,” Ivanishvili says in his appeal to the international community.
A senior ruling party lawmaker, Giorgi Gabashvili, said that there was nothing new in Ivanishvili’s statement, which, he said, was in line with the Georgian Dream’s tactic “to play the victim”. He said Georgian Dream’s allegation of not having possibility to campaign properly was “absurd.”
“This appeal [by Ivanishvili] indicates that one month before the elections they [the Georgian Dream] start accommodating to an election defeat,” MP Gabashvili said. “They now try to shift blame on to electoral environment and they have already started talking that elections will be falsified and illegitimate.”