Caucasus Elections Watch

Ivanishvili’s warns international community of spiralling crisis. Reactions.

On 30th August, Bidhzina Ivanishvili, the leader of the Georgian Dream coalition sent a letter to international leaders regarding the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Georgia. The following is the full text of the letter

By this letter, I would like to appeal to the international democratic community.

The fate of Georgia will be decided by the outcome of the upcoming October 1 election , and to a great degree, how the election will proceed will be determined by  the leaders of international democracies around the world:  Will Georgia finally start   on a path towards democratic development or will the country continue its fight against authoritarianism and post-communism.

I entered this race because I saw the extreme to which Georgia was languishing, and I considered it my duty to do what I could to save it from itself.  The Saakashvili regime has nearly destroyed my homeland in myriad ways during the past years, exerting unprecedented force and even violence against the business community and subjugating the economy almost entirely.   Crackdowns on civil and democratic rallies, as well as on human rights overall, have become a normal phenomenon in addition to the overall violation of human rights. Almost unbelievably so,   the processes of imprisonment and plea-bargaining have become routine and people impoverished, intimidated and abused. Free speech has been limited, while state-controlled media have turned into propaganda dispensing tools and pseudo-opposition politicians, parties and media outlets have joined the web of lies, creating an environment in which people have developed distrust of politics and elections.

It was for the sake of much-needed change, the restoration of justice and the country’s democratic development that I decided to run to enter politics.  Since October 2011 to the present, I have  successfully united  our previously scattered and weakened oppositional forces and formulated the following priorities  of our political coalition: to honour Georgia’s Constitution; eradicate  corruption at all levels; introduce  an independent judiciary; promote a free media; protect  human rights; empower  civil society; create  prospects for the reintegration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; improve the investment environment; regulate  relations between Russia; promote European and Euro-Atlantic integration; strengthen  Georgia’s strategic partnership with the United States.  These are the goals of our coalition, which the people of Georgia have come to believe out of their high confidence in me and my reputation.

Along with the Georgian people, however, Saakashvili has also realized that my participation in the upcoming election has upset his plans and created an impassable obstacle along the regime’s clear path to permanent power.

The recognition of this obstacle is why, from the day I entered this race, Saakashvili started to persecute me as a political opponent, on one hand, and to instil fear and hatred and  in the public, on the other.  As early as the fourth day of my campaign, he and his regime revoked my citizenship and tried to marginalize my participation in the political process Two weeks later, he launched an attack on my private property and did the following:

• Abused the Constitution
• Arrested Georgian Dream supporters and jeopardized their employment
• Imposed millions of dollars in fines against the political coalition and its member parties, severely limiting their political activities
• Hijacked the commercial Cartu Bank’s armoured cash delivery vehicle and used legislative and administrative gadgetry to drain GEL 190 million from Cartu Bank. Leading to its near bankruptcy
• Imposed fines on and seized the property of the coalition’s service contractors, including auctioning of their assets
• Fined me personally over 130 million GEL
• Invented millions of dollars in campaign expenditures that the Georgian government is counting against the coalition’s spending cap, so that the government can disqualify the coalition after the election and ban its members from the parliament in the event the spending cap is breached.

In addition to the financial attacks on the campaign and me, the regime developed legislative amendments and established a new agency of political repressions – the Chamber of Control’s Political Parties Financial Monitoring Department. The department exists only to restrict the Georgian Dream’s and my own personal political activities.

So far, the Political Parties Financial Monitoring Department has auctioned off our contributors’ personal residences; fined and subjected to degrading interrogation hundreds of our members and activists; sequestrated hundreds of thousands of civilians’ satellite dishes; and fined the companies distributing these dishes millions of GEL. The new “Must Carry” rule, which has only increases the independent media’s access to viewers by 25 percent, cannot be considered an alternative to satellite dishes.  Moreover, it will only be enforced until the election day, thus allowing for the population to exist in an information vacuum during the vote counting process.

Election day was set for Monday, October 1, a workday, substantially complicating participation in elections by Georgians living abroad. Not surprisingly, the judiciary, in total obedience to Saakashvili, is acting merely as the government’s notary.

All this creates a tense electoral environment in the country and has impeded the coalition’s political activity to such a degree that a fair and free election on October 1 is out of the question.  Due to the matters discussed above and my responsibility before the Georgian people, it is my duty to announce that if no significant changes  in the actions of the government are made starting today, a free and fair election will not take place in Georgia.

It is not our goal to fight against election fraud, rather to win the election itself.  Therefore, although it is impossible to fully remedy the effects of the repression of the Georgian people in the past 10 months leading up to the election, the Georgian Dream is willing to sign a commitment letter recognizing the validity of the election results  if the electoral environment is radically changed from now  until polling day. The following demands must also be met:

1. The enforcement of all fines, sequestrations or sanctions initiated by the State Chamber of Audit must stop immediately as  recommended by the Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections in the case with the court order section imposing fines on the parties;
2. The Chamber of Control must provide a detailed accounting of its calculation of the coalition’s expenses and received donations, including providing concrete and legitimate evidence, so as to ensure it does not claim Georgian Dream has exceeded the campaign spending cap and impose harsh penalties without proof;
3. Ensure that all necessary conditions for citizens of Georgia living abroad (25 percent of the voters) are met to enable their participation in the election, even if it requires rescheduling the polling day;
4. Remove immediately all obstacles put in place to prevent private companies from distributing satellite dishes among the population, and the government support for other projects planned to increase access to information by the public,  e.g. initiative by Georgian emigrants;
5.  A coalition representative must be made  a member of the Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections, and the agency must work on a daily basis, in a transparent manner, and immediately consider all politically motivated cases of persecution of the Georgian people;
6. In order to monitor compliance with the Code of Ethics proposed by the civic sector and accepted by the coalition, an effective mechanism must be created with the participation of international organizations.

The only opinion still respected by Saakashvili is that of the international democratic community.  This was evidenced by the government’s recent concessions in relation to a number of incidents (for example, after  harsh criticism by the European Council and OSCE representatives, the regime removed holds on the parties’ bank accounts, escorted unauthorized persons out of the coalition headquarters, and postponed the enforcement of certain fines.

None of our requests require constitutional changes or a long time to fulfil.  All of our conditions can be met provided that the international democratic community is willing to address Saakashvili and categorically demand that he stop exerting violence against his own people and make our electoral environment compatible with international standards.

The people of Georgia as well as the international democratic community face the same choice – either we take decisive measures immediately   to ensure the fairness and freeness of the elections, or live with the consequences of a stolen election and a country spiralling further into political crisis.”

There have been various reactions to Ivanishvili’s statement.

The government responded by rejecting the list of principles on Friday, saying that it considers these demands groundless. Chiora Taktakishvili, spokesperson for the ruling party, said the president and the National Movement party have already expressed their readiness to make the upcoming election the most free and fair in Georgia’s history.

She said the government has taken many steps to this end, including adopting the so-called code of conduct for political parties. “It was prepared on the basis of recommendations by civil society, and Georgian Dream refuses to share the principles of this document.”

Georgian Dream refuses to sign the code of conduct, saying they think there are important issues which haven’t been included.“The way Ivanishvili is presenting groundless demands makes us think that the goal of Georgian Dream is not to participate in free and fair elections, but to bring disorder after the election,” Taktakishvili said.

The National Movement calls on Georgian Dream to follow the regulations of the law, avoid using hate speech and violence, recognize the election results which will be approved by the Central Election Commission and unbiased international observers. Ivanishvili said Thursday said that his coalition will defend people’s vote only by peaceful means and not call for confrontation.

But following the government’s statement, Ivanishvili told journalists that the international community and his political force have common views, which means that if the government doesn’t respect the principles they presented, the election will not be considered fair by the international community.

The Georgian Central Elections Commission on Saturday  issued a terse statement in reply to warnings by Georgia’s opposition with regard to possible fraud in the upcoming elections.

The statement said:

“The Central Election Commission of Georgia denies that there is any basis in fact for a statement made by Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the election bloc “Bidzina Ivanishvili – Georgian Dream,” accusing the CEC of preparing to engaging in electoral fraud. On August 31 during the broadcast of Channel 9’s “Main Question,” Mr. Ivanishvili stated the following: “… the CEC office will close for one or two hours, or they will suspend the process used in the previous elections, they will rewrite the sheets, they will expel our commission members, etc, and afterwards will summarize and publish the results…”

As a political leader, Mr. Ivanishvili should refrain from slandering the electoral administration of Georgia based only on fabrications and accusations. Such irresponsible actions seem designed to erode public confidence in the electoral process and will impact the electoral environment negatively. All political leaders of Georgia have a duty to help strengthen the electoral process.

We hope that the above-mentioned statement was made out of ignorance and not ill-intention, and we would like to help address Mr. Ivanishvili’s lack of knowledge about the election administration and its activities by extending him an invitation to visit the Central Election Commission of Georgia on Monday, September 3, for a personal briefing on the activities, procedures, and oversight of the election administration.”

Source: Compiled by CEW with the press Service of Georgian Drean, the CEC of Georgia and