United National Movement (UNM) opposition party has accused inter-agency commission for fair elections of failure and unwillingness to address campaign-related violations and said it would no longer participate in the meetings of the group.
The commission, also known as Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections (IATF), is chaired by Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani and is made up of representatives from the political parties and various ministries and state agencies; it is tasked to look into election stakeholders’ campaign-related complaints and to issue non-binding recommendations.
“Commission continues its practice of justifying illegal actions or inaction of law enforcement agencies,” said UNM’s representative in IATF, Zurab Tchiaberashvili, who walked out of the commission’s July 1 meeting in protest. “The United National Movement will no longer be participating in a farce called inter-agency commission meetings chaired by Minister Tsulukiani.”
Initiating new criminal charges against former Tbilisi mayor and UNM’s election campaign chief, Gigi Ugulava, was among the issues discussed at IATF’s meeting on July 1. UNM says that by bringing new charges against Ugulava ahead of the second round runoffs of the local elections, the authorities violated moratorium declared by PM Irakli Garibashvili on legal proceedings against political figures during the election campaign period.
Deputy chief prosecutor, Irakli Shotadze, who attended IATF’s July 1 meeting, suggested that the law enforcement agencies had to act as Ugulava was intending to flee the country. Ugulava has traveled abroad and returned back to Georgia for number of times since first criminal charges were filed against him in February, 2013. Deputy chief prosecutor Irakli Shotadze, however, claimed that this time the prosecutor’s office “received information” that Ugulava “was not intending to return back to Georgia.”
Ugulava, who was charged without being arrested, said that he was planning a “working visits” to London, then to Kiev to meet mayor of the Ukrainian capital city Vitali Klitschko and then to Chisinau to participate in a meeting of monitoring committee of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities scheduled for July 3.
UNM held a protest rally outside the government chancellery on June 30 against what it calls “political witch-hunt”. Addressing supporters at the rally, Ugulava said that he has no intention to flee the country.
“I’d rather die than flee… I will fight to the end,” he said.
Prosecutors have filed a motion with the Tbilisi City Court seeking seizure of passport from Ugulava to prevent him from traveling abroad.
Prosecutors are also requesting from court to order Ugulava to post GEL 50,000 bail as a preventive measure in connection to new charges filed against him involving allegation of misspending public funds while service as Tbilisi mayor in connection to a contract with car parking management firm in the capital city.
UNM said in a statement on July 1 that IATF was not reacting properly on violent incidents during the campaign and multiple violations in the lead up to and on the election day. The inter-agency commission “was not able and was not willing either to provide free and fair electoral environment for the June 15 local elections.”
Commenting on UNM’s decision, Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani said that participation of the opposition party in IATF’s work is in the interest of UNM itself rather than in her interest. “So they have to continue cooperation with us and I am sure that will be the case,” she said and added that UNM was “causing a stir” just for PR purposes.
UNM temporarily suspended its participation in IATF last year as well ahead of the October 2013 presidential elections.
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy and Transparency International Georgia, which have been monitoring electoral process said in their joint statement on June 14 that IATF was not paying attention to implementation of its non-binding recommendations.
“Although the commission has no mechanism to ensure enforcement of its recommendations, sometimes it seemed that the commission did not show appropriate interest towards implementation of its recommendations,” the election monitoring groups said. “Work of the inter-agency commission should be more efficient in preventing and reacting on violations.”