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NGO files suit over involvement of government officials in Saakashvili campaign

By Anna Kamushadze
Wednesday, December 19
The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) is demanding that two leading government officials be fined for illegally campaigning with Mikheil Saakashvili.

On December 20, Tbilisi Civil Court will hear a case brought by GYLA against the Central Election Commission (CEC). The suit alleges that Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava and Minister of Refugees and Resettlement Koba Subeliani broke the law by participating in Saakashvili’s presidential campaign while they were officially on the job.

Kakha Kozhoridze, a GYLA member, said their complaint is based on a November 28 meeting between Saakashvili and IDPs at Tbilisi City Hall at which Ugulava and Subeliani were present.

“The meeting [with the IDPs] was during working hours, and the participation of the mayor and the minister means they broke the law and must be fined,” Kozhoridze said.

He said his organization filed a complaint with the CEC on December 5, but that the commission decided there had been no violation.

Kozhoridze said the CEC, in turning down the complaint, justified their decision by pointing out the two officials made no statements which constituted campaigning.

“It’s true they didn’t make any campaign statements…but when two government officials, during working hours, attend a candidate’s campaign event it is perceived as a show of support,” Kozhoridze argued.

CEC secretary Gizo Mechedlidze offered another explanation for their decision: on November 28, the date of the meeting, Saakashvili was just a citizen in the eyes of the law.

Saakashvili, who stepped down from the presidency on November 25 to clear the way for the snap presidential election, was officially registered as a presidential candidate on December 6.

“The electoral code deals only with electoral subjects…. Ugulava [and] Subeliani…attended a meeting of citizen Saakashvili with IDPs. That is their right, to attend or not to attend,” Mchedlidze stated.

That same City Hall meeting also drew criticism after Saakashvili apparently instructed Subeliani to hand over state-owned property to IDPs. Saakashvili’s campaign clarified that the candidate meant the line as a request, but opposition politicians immediately decried what they saw as proof that Saakashvili has retained control over the government even after leaving the presidency.