2014 Local Self-Government

Government should resolve certain issues prior to the elections

Local self-government elections will be scheduled in the nearest future, and the election campaign is to follow. The upcoming elections are unprecedented in that members of the Sakrebulos and Mayors/Governors will be directly elected at the local level. This is a significant step forward for decentralization and strengthening of the local self-government. Although urged by the civil society and political parties, the motion of no-confidence against Mayors and Governors has not been abolished. Furthermore, no substantial changes have been carried out in an electoral system: absence of multi-mandated districts and preventing individual candidates from taking part in elections for an office of a Mayor or Gamgebeli remains a problem.

We would like to also highlight the challenges that remain and continue to have an adverse impact on fair election environment. 

1. Election Legislation

As noted above, despite the reforms, certain issues remain that require further improvement, which is especially problematic within the context of the upcoming elections. The Parliament of Georgia is considering a Bill on the amendments to the Election Code. The bill was initiated after amending the Election Code based on the recommendations of the Inter-Factional Task Force. It is noteworthy, that one of the recommendations of the international organizations referred to the importance of prohibiting any changes in the election legislation shortly before the election date. We believe that verification of voter identity by photos is not equal to biometric registration of voters and therefore, it is insufficient to ensure that voter lists are trustworthy and completely eliminate any inaccuracies in voter lists. Further, effective use of registration lists with photos without delaying the election process will depend on quality and parameters of photos, as well as the capacity of commission members. 

The Amendments also envision the possibility for persons eliminated from the registration and persons registered without an address to take part in elections according to their factual addresses. This might lead to certain manipulations regarding the votes of such voters.

The Amendments specified regulations for voting by the personnel of the Ministry of Internal Affairs who have been stationed at the place other than their registered address at the time of polling. Such personnel have the right to participate in the proportional elections of Sakrebulos. They can also participate in majoritarian elections and elections for Mayors/Governors when the place of their dislocation is the same as the place of their registration. The regulation is a step forward; however, personnel of the Ministry of Internal Affairs whose place of dislocation and the place of registration are different should not have the right to vote in proportional election of Sakrebulos so as not to elect members of self-government bodies in districts where they do not have a permanent residence. Instead, they should participate in voting according to their address of permanent registration. 

3. Drawing Election District Borders

Notably, creation of new self-government communities has not yet been decided and this process has been going on without public consultations or involvement. Consequently, borders and names of districts remain unclear, which hinders the ability of political parties to plan and implement their election campaigns.

4. Investigating measures against the Members of the “United National Movement”, Including the Former Officials

Recently, the investigatory authorities have started to actively summon individuals (for questioning or bringing charges), who are actively involved in party-related activities. The Inter-Agency Task Force  issued several recommendations before the Parliamentary and the Presidential elections, urging that the investigatory bodies refrain from such activities during pre-election campaign unless there was an urgent necessity. The recommendation should still apply. 

5. Commencement of Work by Inter-Agency Task Force 

Regrettably, an Inter-Agency Task Force that played important preventive role in previous years has not been set up. Pursuant to the 2014 amendments to the Election Code, the IATF for the 2014 local self-governmental elections Inter-Agency Task Force should have been created within 10 calendar days after the enactment of the amendments, while the date of enactment is the same as the date of promulgation. Since the law was promulgated on March 14, the IATF should have already commenced its work.  
We believe that the Inter-Agency Task Force should immediately start functioning and discharging the functions it has been delegated by law. 

6. State Social Programs

Recently, state authorities have announced about the launch of social projects that may be motivated by gaining support of voters in the upcoming elections. In particular, these programs envisage providing allowance to large families two weeks before the election date and initiation of a memorandum to solve the problem of the so-called “Khrushchovkas” in Tbilisi. The Government should refrain from initiating such projects during a pre-election campaign, as they may constitute abuse of public resources.

7. Dismissal of Public Servants from the Local Self-Governmental Bodies
Similarly problematic is the law adopted by the Parliament, under which all municipal public servants will become interim employees, which can be viewed not only as a significant pressure on public servants compelling them to be get involved in electoral processes but it is also a direct violation of the Constitution of Georgia and the labor rights of the persons employed in a public sector. 

We urge the Government to undertake effective steps to improve these gaps and to guarantee equal and fair electoral environment.