Shortcomings identified in the competition for selection of professional members of the Central Election Commission
Composition of the electoral administration is an important challenge in Georgia. Even though for years there have been active discussions about improving the existing model of composition, which would entail moving from the so-called mixed model to the model of selecting professional members, nothing has changed. Under the existing rules, 6 members of the electoral commission are appointed by political parties and the remaining six are selected in a competition.
In addition to the existing composition model being problematic, as it fails to ensure formation of the electoral administration as a politically neutral agency, practical implementation of the model and in particular, transparency and legitimacy of the process of selection of professional members within the existing model is also a problem. Monitoring of composition of district and precinct level commissions with professional members in previous years identified a number of instances where suspicions about possible political influences and nepotism facts were raised. In addition to the issue of recruitment of professional members for district and precinct level commissions, the process of selection of professional members of the CEC, who are nominated by the president and selected by the parliament, is also important.
The last competition for selection of professional members of the CEC was held in 2019. In particular, on November 5, 2019 the president announced an open competition to fill four vacant CEC member positions. Under the Decree of the President #05/11/02, the Statute of the competition commission and the rules for holding an open competition were approved.
ISFED requested the following public information from the Administration of the President of Georgia for the purpose of examining the competition to fill vacant CEC member positions:
- Information about candidates participating in the open competition and copies of documents submitted by them as part of their application to participate in the competition;
- The Statute of the Competition Commission created for selection of the CEC members and minutes of the commission meetings.
The organization studied applications submitted by candidates to participate in the competition and minutes of the commission meetings provided by the Administration of the President of Georgia, as well as normative acts that regulate the competition.
Problems were identified in the competition for selection of CEC members, both during the stage of formation of the competition commission and during evaluation of candidates. The following problems are especially notable:
- Even though in the process of formation of the competition commission, requirements of the organic law of Georgia “Election Code of Georgia” were not breached and civil society was represented in the commission, criteria that the president relied on to form the commission is ambiguous;
- Questions about impartiality and professionalism of NGOs represented in the commission create suspicions about objectivity of the competition for selection of candidates for CEC membership;
- Minutes of the competition commission does not illustrate how candidates participating in the competition were evaluated by the commission, according to the established criteria;
- The decision of the competition commission was not reasoned. The basis of the commission decision to recommend certain candidates to the president is unclear.
Composition of the commission created for selection of candidates for CEC membership
According to Article 12 of the organic law of Georgia “Election Code of Georgia”, the President of Georgia issues a decree for holding a competition and setting up a competition commission no later than 30 days before the term of office of the CEC members expires, and if a vacancy occurs, no later than 15 days from its occurrence. The Election Code also determines the rules for setting up a commission - in particular, the competition commission should be representative and half of its members should be comprised of NGO representatives.
The competition commission created under the Decree #05/11/02 of the President of Georgia was composed of 6 members, including three representatives of the President’s Administration and three NGO representatives. The Election Code does not contain any specifications regarding composition of the commission, with the exception of the specification about NGO representatives. However, we believe that presence of 3 representatives of the President’s Administration in the commission does not ensure representativeness of the commission. The decision on creating the commission does not specify how representatives of the President’s Administration were selected as members of the commission or whether they had any experience and/or knowledge in the field of elections.
In addition to the presence of representatives of the President’s Administration, NGOs represented in the commission raise serious suspicions. In particular, Georgian Barristers and Lawyers International Observatory is an organization associated with the authorities and it does not have a reputation of an impartial and credible observation organization. Its election observation methodology lacks transparency while it does not abide by the principles of objectivity and impartiality in the election monitoring process. The organization is known for dissemination of statements in support of local authorities or the ruling party and criticism of credible and authoritative observation organizations. With regard to another organization represented in the commission - the New Generation for Democratic Georgia, its election observation methodology, reports and evaluations of important election matters are unknown. In light of this, it is unclear as to why the President of Georgia granted these organizations the legitimacy to select candidates for CEC membership.
Requirements for CEC membership candidates
Qualification requirements for CEC membership candidates were approved under the presidential decree #05/11/02, pursuant to the requirements of Article 12.4 of the Election Code. In particular: a candidate should have been a legally capable citizen of Georgia, who had attained the age of 25, was non-partisan, had higher education, was fluent in the official language of Georgia, had work experience of no less than three years, and held a certificate of an Electoral Administration officer.
According to Article 12 of the organic law of Georgia “Election Code of Georgia”, the competition commission should present to the President of Georgia no less than 2 and no more than 3 candidates for CEC membership for each vacancy. On November 22, 2019, the commission for selection of candidates for CEC membership convened in order to review the applications. According to minutes of the meeting, the commission reviewed 16 applications. One applicant was disqualified for failing to submit the documents in the official language of Georgia. The commission decided to recommend 12 candidates to the President of Georgia, for 4 vacant positions. However, the commission minutes do not provide any information on the decision made by the commission about 3 remaining candidates and its reasons.
Even though the competition commission did not violate the procedures prescribed by the Election Code, minutes of the commission do not specify, in addition to formal verification of application documents, what other mechanisms were used to evaluate candidates in terms of, for instance, their non-partisanship, which is an important criteria for evaluation of professional members of the CEC. In addition, it is not clear as to what arguments and circumstances the commission relied on to select 12 candidates for nomination and why the remaining three candidates were not shortlisted. Even though based on formal evaluation of their documents it is safe to say they too met the requirements, individual evaluations of 12 nominated candidates are not included in the minutes, which is indicative of violation of the principle of a reasoned decision by the commission.
Pursuant to Article 12 of the Election Code, the President recommends 2 candidates to the Parliament of Georgia for one vacant CEC member position. On November 25, 2019, the President of Georgia recommended 8 candidates to the Parliament of Georgia for 4 vacant positions of the CEC member, with the following distribution: Dimitri Javakhidze and Gia Tsatsashvili; Giorgi Dzagania and Vladimer Bozhadze; Giorgi Javakhishvili and Maia Zaridze; Giorgi Chikaberidze and Zaza Pirveli. Because the minutes of the competition commission did not contain any reasoning about 12 nominated candidates, it is unclear what the president relied on to select 8 candidates for nomination before the parliament and the criteria used to distribute the nominated candidates according to vacant positions.
The foregoing circumstances create questions about objectivity of criteria for selection of candidates at every stage of the competition and transparency of the process.
We believe that in order to ensure public trust in the process of selection of CEC members in the future and improve its transparency, it is important that:
- the commission includes only one representative of the President’s Administration. Other members should be representatives of the Public Defender’s Office, experts on election issues, representatives of academia that have experience in the field of elections and others, with high reputation and credibility;
- instead of organizations with suspicious reputation, organizations with a long working experience on election issues, who are known for their impartial and objective work are invited to the commission;
- final decision of the competition commission is reasoned. This is an important prerequisite to ensure that impartiality of the selection process is not called into question due to the decision of the commission and later the decision of the president.
 As an example, in the 2018 presidential elections, the competition for selection of temporary members of district electoral commissions was conducted by the CEC in a hasty manner. From 173 candidates participating in the competition, 72 were selected in 24 hours without interviews, which would not have ensured evaluation of candidates based on objective criteria. In addition, in 24 DECs, commission members that were present at the meeting used pre-made lists to make decisions about selection of PEC members. ISFED also identified many instances where selected commission members were close relatives of officials of p/u Georgian Dream and the electoral administration, suggesting once more that the competition was held for the sake of form. Final report of the 2018 presidential election: http://www.isfed.ge/eng/news/2018-tslis-saprezidento-archevnebis-saboloo-angarishi
 See the organic law of Georgia “The Election Code of Georgia”, Article 10: five members of the CEC are nominated by the President of Georgia and selected by the Parliament of Georgia, while six members are appointed by parties, as prescribed by law, https://matsne.gov.ge/en/document/view/1557168?publication=55
 See the November 5, 2019 Decree no. #05/11/02 of the President of Georgia, on holding an open competition for selection of candidates for CEC membership and creating a competition commission for selection of candidates for CEC membership: https://bit.ly/2JDMqj0
 See the November 5, 2019 Decree no. #05/11/02 of the President of Georgia, on holding an open competition for selection of candidates for CEC membership and creating a competition commission for selection of candidates for CEC membership.
 See the interview of Georgian Barristers and Lawyers International Observatory Director Grigol Gagnidze with Saerto Gazeti newspaper: “the only [candidate] who is giving real promises to voters is Salome Zourabichvili”: https://netgazeti.ge/news/314525/
 See the statement of ISFED on the Election Day process: outside electoral precincts #2, #8 and #26 of Chokhatauri DEC #62, individuals with the Georgian Barristers and Lawyers International Observatory observer certificates are sitting in vehicles with lists and campaigning in favor of Salome Zourabichvili, http://www.isfed.ge/eng/presrelizebi/archevnebis-dghis-mimdinareoba-1100-saatistvis
 See the minutes of the competition commission for selection of candidates for the CEC membership, no.1, dated 22 November 2019.
 The Parliament of Georgia made the decision on 10 December 2019 and selected the following candidates for the four vacant CEC member positions: Dimitri Javakhadze - with 79 votes; Giorgi Dzagania - with 77 votes; Giorgi Javakhishvili - with 78 votes and Giorgi Chikaberidze - with 76 votes; https://bit.ly/2wX4tOI