Parliamentary elections and ongoing power transition in Georgia are “remarkable” and “very hopeful developments”, but “much more” needs to be done to further consolidate democracy, Thomas O. Melia, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state in the bureau of democracy, human rights and labor, said on October 9.
Speaking at a Washington-based think-tank Atlantic Council, discussing Georgia’s election results, Melia said that electoral process was not yet over as reviewing of complaints in several single-mandate constituencies was still underway.
“So elections are not over and secondly… elections by themselves don’t make democracy,” he said. “But what we have underway in Georgia, nonetheless, is a remarkable transition.”
“It’s one of these times, that I hope we will see more often in the former Soviet space,” he said, adding that this process should be watched “very, very closely”.
Melia was in Georgia less than three weeks before the polls; he was leading the U.S. interagency delegation to assess the pre-election situation.
He said that when he visited Georgia, “frankly, I thought that prospect of violence on election night or day after was quite real.”
“So we spent a lot of time with the both sides [the Georgian Dream and President Saakashvili’s United National Movement]… trying to talk them down from the militant rhetoric that the both sides were developing about the confrontation on the election night,” the U.S. Department of State official said.
“Elections are not over; much more than the election is necessary to further consolidate Georgia’s democracy trajectory, but this election and transition that is underway are very hopeful developments,” he said.
He praised President Saakashvili and his UNM party for acknowledging in “the gracious way” defeat in the election and also for being responsive to the concerns raised by Washington in the lead up to elections.
Melia said that there had been active and high-level U.S. engagement with Georgia, especially over the past year, on rule of law and democracy issues, including in the context of the parliamentary elections. He said that interagency delegation he led to Georgia last month, which was “unusual in some ways”, was part of this broad engagement.
“Encouragement [of Georgia] to do better is what our policy had been about for last couple of years and in particular for last year in lead up to last week’s polls,” Melia said.
“And what’s been interesting about this engagement is that… the Georgian authorities have in many ways been responsive to the concerns we raised,” he said.
Among those issues on which, he said, the Georgian authorities were responsive, Melia listed setting up of an inter-agency task force at the Georgian National Security Council in charge of addressing electoral violations, which was established earlier than envisaged by the law. He also said that ‘must-carry’ rules were introduced after “we pressed them to make access to the media more equitable”.
“We continued to press them on some things that we thought they could have done better, like the implementation of the campaign finance law and the work of the special audit office that was investigating campaign finance law violations,” Melia said, adding that this law was used “in politically directed way” mainly against the Georgian Dream coalition.
He said that putting head of the State Audit Office (SAO), Levan Bezhashvili, and his deputy as UNM’s MP candidates and also putting UNM’s lawmaker, Lasha Tordia, as new head of the State Audit Office “made it look like it [SAO] was more partisan oriented than it should have been.”