ODIHR flags up changes in constituency boundaries in Georgia as a priority.

Janez Lenarcic meeting Maia Panjikidze in Warsaw on 29January 2012.

Janez Lenarcic meeting Maia Panjikidze in Warsaw on 29 January 2013.

ODIHR Director Janez Lenarcic met in Warsaw last week with Maia Panjikidze, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, at ODIHR Headquarters. During the meeting issues related to the final report of the OSCE/ODIHR Election monitoring mission for the 2012 Parliamentary Elections were discussed.

ODIHR issued the final report of the Mission on 21 December. The report is largely technical and in some instances avoids dealing directly with some of the more difficult issues that overshadowed the 1 October elections in Georgia. The report however lists 26 recommendations, some of which it suggests to be implemented prior to the Autumn Presidential elections, and more long term calls for a comprehensive review of all electoral laws, and of the regulations concerning campaign funding.

The first priority recommendation in the report states:

“The OSCE/ODIHR reiterates its long-standing recommendation to address the disparity of the population size in the single mandate constituencies for parliamentary elections.”

This issue could very easily have thrown Georgia into political chaos last October had the election victory of the Georgian Dream coalition not been so decisive. A scenario whereby President Saakashvili’s United National Movement would win the majority of seats in Parliament despite losing the overall popular vote looked increasingly possible as the election campaign progressed. In a controversial appearance on television a few days before election day the Head of the European Union delegation Philip Dimitrov referred directly to this possibility, and insisted that if this happened the result had to be accepted. Many were critical that the EU had not pushed for this anomaly to be corrected despite it being known for a long time. By flagging the issue up so prominently in its final report ODIHR is trying to ensure that this problem does not recur. At the moment there is no provision for ensuring that boundaries of constituencies are revised to ensure that disparity in the number of voters in different constituencies remains within bounds.

The final OSCE/ODIHR report gives an overall positive picture of the election. It states.

“The 1 October parliamentary elections marked an important step in consolidating the conduct of democratic elections in line with OSCE and Council of Europe commitments, although certain key issues remain to be addressed. The elections were competitive with active citizen participation throughout the campaign, including in peaceful mass rallies. The environment, however, was polarized and tense, characterized by the frequent use of harsh rhetoric and a few instances of violence. The campaign often centred on the advantages of incumbency, on the one hand, and private financial assets, on the other, rather than on concrete political platforms and programs. While freedoms of association, assembly and expression were respected overall, instances of harassment and intimidation of party activists and supporters marred the campaign and often ended with detentions or fines of mostly opposition-affiliated campaigners, contributing to an atmosphere of distrust among contestants. The distinction between state activities and the campaign of the ruling party was at times blurred, at odds with the OSCE 1990 Copenhagen Document.”

A team from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) visited Tbilisi from 29 to 31 January 2013 to present the final report to different stakeholders. The report’s findings were discussed at a roundtable meeting in Tbilisi jointly organized by ODIHR and the United Nations Development Programme, with support from the European Union. The event brought together representatives from the Georgian authorities, political parties and international and local organizations, as well as from the diplomatic community. The ODIHR team also met separately with representatives of state authorities, political parties, and other electoral stakeholders to discuss the report’s recommendations aimed at ensuring that election-related legislation and practice are more in line with OSCE commitments and other international standards.

Source: CEW with additional material from the OSCE website