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We don't want any of the candidates, say opposition

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, January 14
President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili presented his three nominated candidacies for Central Election Commission (CEC) Chair on January 12, but they have aroused serious dissatisfaction in both the Parliamentary and non-Parliamentary opposition. Some parties have already stated that their representatives on the CEC will not participate in the election of the Chair, but Government representatives have stated that other reasons lie behind this opposition boycott.

Levan Tarkhnishvili, Otar Sichinava and Zurab Kharatishvili were the three nominations made after consultations with NGOs. Tarkhnishvili, the outgoing Chair of the CEC, was nominated by the Liberty Institute, Zurab Kharatishvili, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Public Broadcaster, by ALPE and Otar Sichinava, a judge of the Constitutional Court, by New Generation – New Initiatives.

All three candidates have already outlined their priorities. Kharatishvili has said that he will seek the improvement of election legislation so that it meets OSCE approved standards. "The electoral environment should be improved in the country and I will do my best to do this if the opposition members choose me,” Kharatishvili said. Sichinava said that "I know this is a very important responsibility. The CEC's activities should be as transparent as possible and it should have better cooperation with the mass media,” he said. Tarkhnishvili, who has been CEC Chair for the past few years, said that he believes he has been a very successful Chair. "As for my chances, it is up to the opposition members of the CEC to decide who should become its Chairperson, but if I am elected serious changes will not be made,” Tarkhnishvili said.

It is very doubtful that the opposition CEC members will support Tarkhnishvili’s candidacy, as almost all parties have excluded the possibility of him being elected. The opposition attitude towards all three candidates is generally negative. "All three are unacceptable for us. We support none of them. It was the Alliance's initiative that the CEC Chair should be elected after NGOs presented possible candidates, but this has only been done in a formal sense,” Zurab Abashidze from the Alliance for Georgia stated. The Conservative Party has stated that it will boycott the CEC elections. "The party members in the CEC, will not participate in the CEC Chair’s election as all the candidates are inappropriate for the post and related to the Government, with no experience of this sort of work. This is the first step towards election falsification,” Kakha Kukava, the party leader, suggested.

The Parliamentary opposition mostly shares the non-Parliamentary opposition’s attitude towards the candidates, but has stated that opposition members should take part in the CEC Chair’s elections. "Submitting Tarkhnishvili’s candidacy is just laughing at the opposition; I don’t think any opposition member will support him. However despite the fact that the candidates are not liked by the opposition, the process should be completed and the CEC head should be elected by the opposition and not by Parliament,” Paata Davitaia said. The Christian Democrats have talked about making additional demands on the candidates. "Tarkhnishvili’s candidacy is absolutely unacceptable for us, but as for the other two, the opposition should produce some demands, and the candidate who satisfies these will then be supported by the opposition,” Levan Vephkhvadze stated. Independent MP Gia Tsagareishvili is also dissatisfied with the candidacies and has presented his version of why Saakashvili nominated Tarkhnishvili again. "If the President had not nominated Tarkhnishvili this would have been a recognition that the elections held under that man had been falsified,” he stated.

However Government members have their own version of why the opposition has taken such a negative attitude to the candidates. "The opposition know that they will be defeated at the local elections and are trying to justify their failure beforehand. All the candidates nominated are worthy people and able to hold free elections,” Akaki Minashvili has said. Pavle Kublashvili added that the opposition should understand their responsibility. "The process of choosing the candidates has been a very transparent one. None of the candidates were named by the Government; all of them were presented by NGOs and chosen only after the consultations with them. So the opposition have no grounds on which to accuse the Government. The President has already done his duty and presented the candidates, now it is the opposition's turn to do its duty and take a decision,” Kublashvili stated.

Only the six opposition members of the CEC are empowered to elect its Chairman and must do so by today, January 14. At least four of these six members must vote for a candidate in order for him to be declared the winner. If this does not happen, Parliament will elect the CEC Chair by January 21.