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Election observers produce interim report

By Salome Modebadze
Monday, May 10
On May 7 the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) published its Interim Report No1 summarising the reports of the Election Observation Mission (EOM) in Georgia from April 16 to May 3. The report highlighted the significant amendment of the Unified Election Code (UEC) undertaken by National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) in December 2009 designed to improve the level of democracy in Georgian elections by addressing the remaining shortcomings in the system.

After outlining the election administration structure in Georgia the report stressed the importance of the Central Election Commission [CEC]’s active, transparent and inclusive cooperation in informing observers of upcoming sessions in time. “The CEC Chair [Zurab Kharatishvili] has stated that he will seek consensus in reaching CEC decisions. Sessions take place regularly and their minutes are posted on the CEC website. However the CEC also holds informal meetings to which observers are usually not invited,” the report stated. Extra-Parliamentary parties had expressed mistrust towards the authorities but the report highlighted that several opposition parties had also expressed cautious satisfaction with the CEC Chair for his perceived openness and transparency.

After the 2009 amendments to the Election Code which allowed state-funded checks of the voters’ lists by political parties 14 parties had submitted their findings by April 10 and the CEC had made some 80,000 corrections to the lists on the basis of these. Voters and parties can now check the lists at the Precinct Election Commissions (PEC) and District Election Commissions (DEC), which are ready to make relevant changes until May 14.

The report contained a broad summary of the role of the media in the election process, which said that it is divided along political lines. “Only a few outlets succeed in pursuing an independent editorial policy. International and domestic media organisations have accused Government officials and opposition politicians of influencing editorial and programming policies through their personal connections with media executives and owners. The print media offers a wide range of views and some publications openly criticise the Government,” the report said, stressing that the influence of political information screened by TV stations is generally higher than that published in the print media. “The privately owned Rustavi 2 and Imedi TV, perceived as Government supporters, are the two most influential channels and broadcast nationwide in Georgia, while Kavkasia and Maestro, regarded as pro-opposition, broadcast in Tbilisi and its surroundings,” the report said.

The report also talked about the Georgian Public Broadcaster, stressing that it has been screening regular talk shows and debates between candidates and political parties, The specially launched Second Channel has broadcast programmes providing equal coverage of Parliament and the opposition rallies and other election-related issues since February 2010.

The report said that some political parties had complained to the OSCE/ODIHR mission about the high cost of paid political advertising, which limits their opportunities to campaign in the media. Rustavi 2, according to the report, charges approximately ten times more for political ads as non-political commercial ads, which has made the parties use plenty of free airtime. “Thus far, only three Mayoral contestants have bought airtime – Gigi Ugulava, candidate of the United National Movement, on Rustavi 2 and Imedi TV, Irakli Alasania, the candidate of the Alliance for Georgia (on Kavkasia) and Zurab Noghaideli from the Movement for Fair Georgia on Maestro and Kavkasia,” the report specified.

The cooperation of local and international observers in the entire election process is significant in Georgia, the report said. The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), New Generation – New Initiative (nGnI) and the Georgian Young Lawyers Assosiasion (GYLA) are the principal domestic observer organisations, with significant engagement in all election processes.