United National Movement (UNM) said its representative will not participate in the meetings of inter-agency commission, a group which is in charge of looking into and addressing election campaign related violations.
Announcement was made after a verbal altercation that occurred, not for the first time, during the commission’s October 11 meeting between its chairperson, Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani and UNM representative, MP Tina Bokuchava.
UNM said in its statement that during the session Justice Minister Tsulukiani “confirmed that her goal is to destroy the United National Movement and in her opinion, she has even achieved this goal.”
“After these remarks by Tsulukiani, it is absolutely pointless and even insulting for our representative to attend sessions of the commission,” UNM said.
It, however, also said that despite of withdrawal, the UNM will continue submitting its complaints and reports about election campaign violations to the commission.
The commission, also known as Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections (IATF), is made up of representatives from the political parties and various ministries and state agencies; its sessions, which are closed for media, are also attended by observers from local and international monitoring groups.
Some of the observers, who attend IATF meetings, confirmed that verbal exchange took place between Bokuchava and Tsulukiani; according to them when MP Bokuchava accused Tsulukiani of trying to “destroy” UNM, the Justice Minister responded somewhat mockingly: “I’ve already done that.”
Nino Lomjaria, head of the Tbilisi-based election watchdog group International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), who was present at that October 11 session, says that as a chairperson, Justice Ministry Tsulukiani should refrain from “unconstructive” interventions during the commission meetings.
Lomjaria says that such verbal exchanges occur “often” during IATF sessions.
“Tea Tsulukiani should refrain from unconstructive and confrontational disputes, which have nothing to do with addressing issues falling within the format [of the commission],” Lomjaria told Civil.ge on October 12.
Eka Gigauri, head of the Transparency International Georgia, whose representative also regularly attends commission meetings as an observer, has warned against turning IATF into a venue of political disputes. She said UNM’s withdrawal from the commission is a negative development.
“The inter-agency commission is an important format, which should focuse on addressing pre-election problems, instead of being a venue for political disputes, but regrettably this latter is often taken place during the commission meetings,” she told Civil.ge on October 12.
Commenting on UNM’s decision to quit IATF, Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani said on October 12: “With the withdrawal from the inter-agency commission, the National Movement is harming its presidential candidate and harming those voters who might be willing to vote for Davit Bakradze. So first of all I want to advise the presidential candidate of the National Movement to get his party back into the inter-agency commission as soon as possible where we are discussing issues important for the presidential candidates.”
UNM’s presidential candidate, MP Davit Bakradze, who is campaigning in Batumi on October 12, told journalists that boycott is not UNM’s goal and the party might revise its decision if the commission chairperson starts treating every party equally.
“Of course quitting of the inter-agency commission is not good, but we were forced to do that because of remarks by Tea Tsulukiani, who said it remains her task to destroy the National Movement. Of course boycott has never been our desire, so if there is a possibility on the part of the commission to work objectively and treat every party equally, of course I do not rule out revision of our decision,” Bakradze said.
During the previous elections IATF was operating under the National Security Council (NSC) and it was chaired by NSC Secretary Giga Bokeria. As a result of legislative amendments in July, IATF was moved from NSC to the Justice Ministry.
According to a report by international election observers from OSCE, who were monitoring October 2012 parliamentary polls, throughout the electoral campaign, the IATF “proved a useful forum for the review of concerns raised by stakeholders.
Later on October 12 three watchdog groups ISFED, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association and Transparency International Georgia released a joint statement calling on the UNM to resume its participation in IATF and on the commission chairperson Tea Tsulukiani to secure holding of sessions in “constructive” atmosphere.
“The commission, operating under the Justice Ministry, elaborated several really important recommendations; in multiple cases issues were discussed thoroughly and participants of sessions were given appropriate time to lay out their position, which we assess definitely as positive. But, regrettably instead of constructive discussion of problematic issues related to pre-election period, commission sessions were often becoming a venue for political debates,” the statement reads.