The Central Election Commission (CEC) has rejected with 8 votes to 5 an appeal from opposition United National Movement party requesting cancelation of a decision barring its candidate for head (gamgebeli) of Marneuli municipality in Kvemo Kartli region to run in the June 15 local elections.
Chairman of District Election Commission in Marneuli annulled registration of gamgebeli candidate, Akmamed Imamquliyev, citing his failure to meet two-year residency term. The decision was appealed by UNM to the CEC, which after a lengthy discussion decided with a majority vote late on Saturday night to uphold Marneuli DEC chairman’s decision. UNM will now appeal the decision to court.
This is not the first time when CEC had to consider a dispute involving residency requirement of a candidate. Observers note that there is an ambiguity in the law about how to interpret a clause requiring a candidate to live “permanently” in Georgia for last two years prior to setting an election date.
But regardless of any ambiguity, the way how CEC handled four such cases sparked allegations that the election administration is failing to apply same standards to opposition and ruling GD coalition candidates.
All those six members, which represent ruling GD coalition in 13-seat CEC, voted in favor of barring UNM’s Marneuli gamgebeli candidate from running in the June 15 elections.
Two others, who also voted in favor, were CEC chairperson Tamar Zhvania and her deputy Giorgi Sharabidze.
UNM member of CEC, Davit Gurgenidze, was among those five members who voted against.
Those who voted in favor argued that because Marneuli gamgebeli candidate spent almost up to one year outside the country over the past two years with the lengthiest absence lasting for almost four months, Imamquliyev, who says that he was abroad for business trips, was failing to meet residency requirement.
In April, citing failure to meet two-year residency requirement, CEC annulled registration of Gori mayoral candidate Irakli Okruashvili, ex-defense minister, who returned back to Georgia in November, 2012. Court upheld CEC’s decision.
In May CEC discussed complaints from several non-parliamentary opposition parties, who were asking for annulment of GD’s mayoral candidates in Rustavi and Poti; their failure to meet residency requirement was cited as a reason. CEC ruled with a majority vote (7 to 5 with one abstention) that GD’s Rustavi mayoral candidate Davit Jikia’s about six-month stay in Britain for studying and GD’s Poti mayoral candidate Irakli Kakulia’s residency in Kazakhstan in 2009-2012, where he worked, did not constitute violation of a requirement according to which a candidate should live permanently in Georgia for last two years prior to setting of election date.
During discussion of GD’s mayoral candidates’ registration, UNM member of CEC said, according to the meeting protocol, that the commission should have annulled the registration like it did in case of Okruashvili. CEC chairperson and her deputy were among those who voted in favor of annulment of registration in all those three cases involving Okruashvili and GD’s mayoral candidates.
Earlier on June 7, before CEC took the decision on UNM’s Marneuli gamgebeli candidate, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) and Transparency International Georgia, which are monitoring electoral process, called on the election administration to be consistent in its approach and stick to the standard applied in case of GD’s Rustavi and Poti mayoral candidates when discussing case of opposition candidate in Marneuli.
GYLA called on the election administration to act “objectively and to rule out perception of inconsistency and partiality in its actions.”
It also called on the election administration to apply “same standards” to all the candidates regardless of their party affiliation and “not to interpret ambiguities in law to the detriment of opposition candidates and in favor of candidates from ruling” coalition.
UNM’s Marneuli gamgebeli candidate, Akmamed Imamquliyev, said that the authorities want to sideline him from the race as it is the only way to prevent him from winning the gamgebeli office in Marneuli. He said that CEC’s decision will be appealed in the court.
“Threat voiced by Prime Minister Garibashvili, that he will to allow victory of opposition candidates, has reach its culmination,” UNM said in a statement on June 8.
“Election administration has actually become last link in chain of month-long illegal actions against Marneuli gamgebeli candidate Akmamed Imamquliyev,” UNM said, referring to its allegations that Imamquliyev was a target of pressure from the authorities to withdraw from the race.
UNM also slammed personally CEC chairperson, Tamar Zhvania, for, as it put it, “becoming an instrument in the hands” of the government in its attempts to sideline UNM candidate from the race.
CEC chairperson, Tamar Zhvania, said that she and her deputy were consistent in their decisions in all four cases involving candidates’ residency requirement and voted in all of those instances in favor of annulment of registration.
Commenting on the issue of residency requirement, Thomas Hammarberg, who has been serving as EU’s special adviser for legal reforms and human rights in Georgia over the past year, said on June 7 that people who travel a lot, but are not registered in any foreign country and do not pay taxes there, should not be prevented from running in elections.