A stream of European and American officials have been visiting Georgia in the weeks running up to the 1 October parliamentary elections. They all seem to have the same message: the importance for Georgia’s future that the elections are deemed free and fair. But the question is already arising, who if anybody, is going to decide if they were or not?
Two reports issued last week by two reputable organisations, both claiming to cover the pre-election period, whilst not exactly contradictory, leave the reader with two different impressions.
The first report, issued by the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission was published on 10 September. The report is 8 pages long and claims to cover the period 22 August to 5 September 2012.
The second report was issued by Transparency International Georgia, an NGO that has established a reputation for independent and rigorous monitoring of different aspects of governance in Georgia. It covers a longer pre-election period from 1 October 2011 to 1 August 2012. The ODIHR report has been criticised for its blandness and for failing to tackle properly the main issues, such as the controversy surrounding legislation on party financing. The TI Georgia report on the other hand, has been praised for its candidness. It identifies what it calls “anti-competitive trends” in the preelection environment and details “worrying trends” in Georgia’s political system from the day Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the opposition Georgian Dream coalition, announced his intention to run for politics. Noting that the forthcoming 1 October elections represent a milestone for Georgia, and likely the most competitive elections since independence, the TI-Georgia report meticulously documents constitutional and electoral violations over the past year, both by the authorities as well as the opposition. Of particular concern are the incidences of reprisals, voter intimidation and abuse of administrative resources identified in the report. The TI Georgia report was funded by USAID and Open Society Georgia Foundation.
Part of the problem with the ODIHR report is the methodology. Constrained by strict operating procedures, and under constant attack from within the OSCE Permanent Council, ODIHR has become increasingly cautious. Its claim of long term monitoring, in a situation as has developed in Georgia where electioneering has been going on for a year, are uncertain when the mission deploys just five weeks before the day of the election, and its first interim report covers such a short period. Another issue with the ODIHR report is related to the choice of words. For example the reference in section 4 about Bidhzina Ivanishvili having “lost” his citizenship rather than a more robust description of what happened is a case in point. Even if the ODIHR Mission had limited its remarks to things that actually happened in the 14 days covered by the report, some obvious facts are missing. For example, the fact that the former Head and Deputy Head of the controversial State Audit Office – the persons that headed the office when the Georgian Dream Coalition and its supporters where being investigated a few weeks ago, were presented in this period as candidates in the elections on behalf of the United National Movement.
One of the best outcomes of political events in Georgia over the last year, has been the re-emergence of Georgian civil society as a dynamic and forceful element in Georgian society. Their contribution to containing the excesses of both government and opposition are highly commendable. The international community will do well to listen to what they are saying very carefully as should ODIHR.
Source: This comment was prepared by the editorial team of CEW.