Interview: The Chairman of Georgian CEC speaks to CEW about preparations for the October elections.

In an exclusive interview with Caucasus Elections Watch, the Chairman of the Georgian Central Elections Commission, Zurab Kharatishvili, welcomes the fact that it is not the CEC which is responsible to supervise political party finance and the compilation of the voters list. He speaks about the work of the CEC in other spheres at it prepares for the Parliamentary Elections in October.

CEW: Georgia is on the eve of important parliamentary elections. How do you describe the level of preparation of the Central Elections Commission at this point?

Zurab Kharatishvili (ZK): 2012-2014 is a busy election period for Georgia – there will be elections for the Parliament of Georgia and elections of the Supreme Council of Adjara in 2012, Presidential Elections in 2013 and Local Self-Government Elections in 2014. The CEC developed a multi-year Strategic Plan due to the forthcoming active election period, which is now being implemented by us.

Meanwhile, we reorganised and modified the CEC structure into a more flexible and pliable modern system; we implemented wide-ranging and intensive capacity building training for the staff at all levels; we are designing and creating an intranet connecting all 73 District Election Commissions. Also we are developing web-resources to ensure that voters are able and empowered to get introduced to the election administration activities directly and personally, and share their own views. On the day the notice of elections is published, a hotline will be launched enabling voters to obtain detailed information and check their name in the voters’ list via text messages, and through our web-site.

We actively work to develop direct and effective communication channels with voters and stakeholders (local and international monitoring organizations, media and political parties), and we have initiated the formation of working groups on the issues of persons with disabilities and ethnic minorities. We believe that such activities improve the election environment, and enhance public trust towards the election process in Georgia.

CEW: Two important aspects of elections that in most countries are within the competence of the CEC, the compilation of the voters list and the supervision of political party finances have been delegated to other agencies. Do you think this is good practice and does it help or hinder your work?

ZK: Forming an independent body to monitor the political party finances has been recommended to Georgia by international organizations. The CEC had limited responsibility for these obligations in previous years and then, this was only in terms of election period, whereas now the Chamber of Control (recently renamed the State Audit Serviuce), has a full-scale monitoring scope not only related to election matters, but covering the nonelection period as well. Hence, constituting this institution can be considered a positive factor.

As for the Commission for Ensuring Voters’ List Accuracy – we welcome the creation of such a body composed from the political parties and local NGOs. We evaluate their activities as reliable up to now, and do believe this will increase the confidence towards the voters’ list.

CEW: The Government has set up a special Elections Task Force under the chairmanship of the Secretary of the National Security Council. How does the work of the Task Force impact the work of the CEC?

ZK: A similar commission already existed during the elections of 2008 and 2010. The existence of this commission is stipulated by the Election Code. The novelty is that now there is a wide representation of the stakeholders – political parties, media, local and international monitoring organizations – in the commission. In 2010, the commission impacted positively in preventing illegal use of administrative resources and significant risks of misconduct. Therefore, I evaluate existence of such a commission favourably as well.

CEW: How many people do you envisage will be involved in the organization of the elections? How is the CEC recruiting its staff?

ZK: The overall number of electoral administration staff significantly increases during the election period – from 500 to 48,100. Most of them are being assigned to District and Precinct Election Commissions by the political parties. The rest of the staff are being appointed on the basis of an open competition. They are coached according to the cascade training with a new methodology and multimedia format during the election period. Testing, held after the training, will allow us to evaluate their knowledge and skills, which we consider as the component of risk mitigation at election precincts.

CEW: What are your plans with regards to the transparency of the counting process? Do you plan to publish the results precinct by precinct?

ZK: According to the new Election Code, representatives of political parties as well as observers may be involved in the vote counting procedure. At the same time, I would like to mention that with regard to the legislation, it has been already several years since our commission promptly uploads scanned summary protocols of all precinct election commissions on the CEC web-site. We will use the same practice during the 2012 Parliamentary Elections.

CEW: What plans does the CEC have with regards to the organisation of the work of the media, particularly television, and even more particularly the Public broadcaster once the election campaign starts officially?

ZK: The CEC will have an open-access interface to comprehensive media coverage through television, print or new media. Moreover, there is active interaction between the Elections Administration and the media throughout the year, offering to all media, information which is of interest, on a regular basis. We are also keen to create convenient working surroundings for them to offer favourable conditions for professional activities during the election period on a maximum level. As for the organization of the work of the media, the Georgian National Communication Commission will launch the media monitoring program prescribed by the Election Code of Georgia.

CEW: What arrangements is the CEC making with regards to access for international and domestic monitors for the election process?

ZK: Authoritative international observer organizations traditionally are concerned to monitor elections in Georgia. We expect them to show interest in the upcoming elections as well, and like previous years, they will be able to conduct full scale monitoring in an objective and professional manner with minimal formal procedure prescribed by the law. We also actively support local observer organizations in their activities and within the framework of working groups we discuss ways of strengthening our cooperation.

Source: CEW