Over 3.6 million Georgians on Voters’ List, voting status for Georgians living abroad in limbo.

Georgian CEC Chairman Zurab Karatishvili drawling lots for the position of parties on the ballot paper at a recent CEC meeting.

The Georgia Central Election Commission (CEC) has released the preliminary version of the voters’ list for the parliamentary elections set to take place on October 1, 2012. The total, 3,621,256, is the highest recorded figure since the fall of communism. Until now, the highest number of voters registered in Georgia was recorded in May 1991 as 3,594,810 voters, for the first Presidential elections following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then the voters’ list has swayed steadily between 3.1 and 3.14 million through the 1990s, climbing its way back up to 3,544,770 for the May 2010 municipal government elections.

The voters’ list in Georgia has been a source of controversy and the CEC has undertaken important measures to ensure accuracy and transparency in the compilation of the list in recent years. The process, which still involves using data from the Ministry of Justice is now verified by the Voters’ List Verification Commission (VLVC) – an inter-agency and multi-partisan body that is tasked with monitoring and verifying the Voters’ list.

The VLVC published its initial findings last week after conducting a door-to-door verification campaign. According to the VLVC there are 3 483 142 voters in Georgia – about 140,000 less than the figure provided by the CEC. The list will be available for public scrutiny until the end of the month and the final version will be made public on September 15. The total presented by the CEC includes deregistered voters as well as Georgians living abroad. Deregistered voters are those individuals who were incorrectly registered at a particular address and subsequently “deregistered” from that location. The number of deregistered voters, initially totaling 77,232 according to the report released on August 6, was, upon review, increased to 188,995 according to a report from civil. ge.

The number of Georgians living abroad is unknown. According to the CEC the number is around 300,000, about 10% of the population. Other estimates place this number as high as 1 million. Until recently, Georgians living abroad could register to vote with their local consular office. However, recent changes to the requirements to register to vote have thrown a veil of uncertainty over the process for those Georgians whose status abroad is irregular. The government is requiring all voters living abroad to provide a legal residency permit and foreign address in order to register to vote. This move has led some political commentators and elections monitors to observe that this might act as a deterrent for those Georgians residing illegally in a foreign country as they are unlikely to want to draw attention to their precarious position.

Some analysts, such as Kakhi Kakhishvili, chair of the Research Centre for Elections and Political Technologies, have accused the Georgian government of attempting to restrict the vote of possible opposition supporters. “People illegally living abroad are opposition supporters, because they got in this situation exactly because of the social policy of the government and they didn’t have any other way to survive. After Ivanishvili’s appearance our Diaspora became active abroad, when they saw that many people registered for elections and their number was daily increasing, they (the government) made such a decision and now this way it will be impossible for these people to participate in the elections,” said Kakhishvili.

Georgians living in Athens held a protest in front of the Georgian embassy last week denouncing this new requirement. According to messenger.com.ge, one of the Athens’ rally participants has offered his address as a way for irregular Georgian migrants in Greece to safely register without compromising their status. Emigrants for a Democratic Georgia, a non-profit organisation, has also begun to compile a database to help irregular migrants connect with people who can help irregular Georgian migrants obtain a legal residency document.

Prepared for CEW by Karina Gould with files from the Georgian media.