Why the London Times is right in saying that the Georgian elections must be fair, and be seen to be fair.

There are less than five weeks left before the much anticipated parliamentary elections in Georgia. The campaign has now started in earnest, the machine of the electoral process is in full swing, and politicians are taking to the streets of the towns and villages in a way not quite seen before. This could and should be, Georgia’s best election ever.

The Georgians have a clear choice between two major political forces – President Saakashvili’s United national Movement and Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream Bloc. The two are offering different alternative visions for the country’s future – even if on important issues of foreign affairs the two seem to agree on the most important elements, including Georgia’s pro-western orientation and European ambitions.

The process has however been marred by the attempts of the Georgian government to box in its rival through a labyrinth of laws and regulations that have got little to do with the democratic process, but much to do with an electoral victory by stealth. This not to mention the fact that the main opposition person, Bidhzina Ivanishvili, was stripped of his Georgian citizenship the moment he announced his political ambition. The international and local outcry that ensued resulted in ad hoc legislation being rushed through parliament to allow Ivanishvili to remain in the race – but still without his citizenship. The Georgian authorities may have not fully understood how petty and ill-conceived these steps were perceived by Georgia’s friends overseas.

Many western governments and politicians have been patient and tolerant with Mr Saakashvili’s government over the last nine years, sympathising with the challenges he inherited, and the difficulty of the neighbourhood his country is located in. But it is now felt that enough is enough. The London Times, in its editorial on 22 August, which we reprint in full  here, summed up the mood clearly when it stated that the October elections must not only be fair, but must also be seen to be fair. Despite the positive aspects of the campaign so far – including its competitive and largely peaceful nature – serious concerns related to the conduct of the authorities have been flagged up by many international institutions that are monitoring the process.

We reprint in full on page 4 statements that have been made over the last few days by the co-rapporteurs on Georgia of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and by the Delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Both statements raise important and fundamental issues. It is not enough for the Georgian government to dismiss these as allegations resulting from propaganda of lobbyist groups when the facts speak for themselves.

The Georgian people must be allowed to listen to their politicians outlining their vision for the future of the country. They must then be allowed to express their views in a free and secret ballot. Their views must then be respected by winner and loser. It is not for outsiders to decide the outcome of the elections but if the process is flawed it is the responsibility of the international community to speak loudly and clearly.

This commentary was prepared by the CEW Editorial team.