Georgia's calm election
24 August 2016

Georgia goes to the polls on 8 October to elect a new parliament. Since Georgia is a parliamentary republic the party that wins the elections will form the government. Campaigning started on 8 June, and in parallel the process for holding the elections has been going on in earnest. correspondent Joseph D'Urso met the Chairperson of the Georgian Central Elections Commission, Tamar Zhvania in Tbilisi and asked her about the preparations.


How are your preparations going for the elections on October 8th?

The election campaign began on 8th June, so it has already been more than two months. So far we can say it is a very calm and peaceful environment compared to previous elections.


What are the main differences between now and 2012?

The main difference is that there is no violence. Of course [the parties] campaign, and have the right to do so according to the election law. But there is no real evidence of violent behavior.


Could you tell me more about why the Centrists, a pro-Russian party, have been excluded from the elections by the CEC?

It doesn't matter whether the party is pro-Russian, pro-American, or pro-European, it really doesn't matter in terms of the legal requirements. In terms of the election registration, and the registration procedure, we rejected the Centrists on a legal basis.

When they submitted the application for registration, all the documentation was correct based on the election code [article number 113]. If all documents are submitted in the proper way, the respective department issues a conclusion about the appropriateness, then we give them the possibility to submit supporter signatures, at least 25,000. This is a procedure required by law.

[The Centrists] submitted the documentation. However it was refused by the public registry at the first stage, and finally a decision was made by the public registry on 1st August that all procedures were not legal. So it rendered all the documentation illegal, which was a cause for cancelling the registration.

Not having an authorized legal chairperson was the legal reason for cancelling [the Centrists'] electoral registration.


Why did this happen at such a late stage?

We were informed at a late stage because the decision of the public registry was made on 1st August, we didn't know about this decision, and on 15th August they publicly announced their decision to reject the registration of the chairperson. This gave grounds to cancelling the electoral registration.


How was the new voter list was compiled?

The Ministry of Justice compiles the voter list. We also receive data from other ministries and agencies, for instance we receive data on internally displaced people (IDPs) from the ministry of refugees and settlement. We also receive some data from the ministry of defence with regard to military personnel.

The CEC is responsible only for consolidating and forming the voter list, which means we have to split voters based on polling stations. We analyse whether these voters are living in Georgia, because we split these voters based on polling lists, so we need to know addresses.

However we have a period of display and challenge, which means we publish the voter list, based on each polling station. Then voters can check on our website for their name, or the names of family members. Also, one month prior to Election Day, we publicly place the voter list at polling stations, and voters can go and check themselves.

If we discover any error, such as a voter being excluded, there is a procedure for making corrections.  We continue adjusting the list until ten days prior to Election Day, after which we cannot make any further changes because we print it.


Have all parties accepted the voter list?

When we talk about complaints by political parties regarding the voter list, it was more about perception than facts. I have headed the CEC for three years, and during this time we have never received, and never observed, any evidence-based irregularities in the voter list, either officially or unofficially. Even now [parties] have the right to get the voter list. All parties requested to receive it, and all of them have it. No complaints.


They haven't submitted any complaints that have been recognized, or they have submitted none at all?

No complaints.


Do you think that will change as we get closer to the election?

In three years observing this process, there have been no evidence-based problems. But we are open in case they discover anything of course. That it why we are working, that is why we are checking, that is why we have this display and challenge period, in case there are some irregularities. We are open to make corrections of course.


What happened in May, when there was violence at a by-election?

The Kortskheli incident. It's very famous. It happened during a by-elections in Samegrelo region. This violence was not inside the polling station, or outside it, but it was close to the border. Supporters of United National Movement and Georgian Dream, and even some politicians started to argue and then it became violent.

This was very problematic because it happened on Election Day. We really need to investigate such incidents and punish the culprits, to prevent and avoid the same type of problem during the general election. I am optimistic the lesson has been learned by everybody, including government, including the parties, that there is no place for violence in elections.

The election administration is working very closely with the ministry of the interior to ensure security during the pre-election period and on Election Day in October.


What kinds of electoral observation will take place?

We are registering NGOs willing to observe the election throughout the country.  So far we have registered 41 domestic NGOs and many international ones.

We expect to have lots of domestic NGOs observing the elections, and also lots of international organisations. However we have observed problems with political affiliated observers, which I call fake observers, because some of them support political parties.

Usually it is always the government, but this is not the case in Georgia right now. Here all the parties running for election have their own supporting NGOs, and some openly support political parties.

We have some very good organisations and we really count on them, because otherwise we cannot get the evidence of any problems.


How would you evaluate the relationship between the parties and the CEC at the moment?

I would say there is very good communication. Of course political parties have their political agenda. But when it comes to cooperation, they attend our meetings and are always very open to come and talk to the electoral administration.

We always give them all possible information. We made documents available, maps for instance. They are satisfied. With the boundary delimitation process, we involved all of them.


Are there party members on the committee?

Yes. Well they are not party members. They are appointed by political parties. We have thirteen members. Six members including myself are elected based on professional grounds, while seven are appointed by different political parties: Georgian Dream, The Republicans, Free Democrats, Democratic Movement, Conservatives, Industrials, and United National Movement.

These seven parties have the right to appoint members to the central, district and precinct committees. Apart from this appointment, they also have other representatives and proxies. Other parties also have the right to have proxies in the districts and precincts, but only these seven parties have qualified to appoint members to the CEC.


Is there anything else you'd like to say about the upcoming elections?

In terms of administration, these elections will be very difficult.

Apart from the parliamentary vote we have extraordinary elections in six municipalities, for mayors, by-elections in six districts, and to the Adjara Supreme Council. Which means four elections will be held together.


Do you have the resources?

Yes I think and hope so. It is easy to make logistical mistakes. Elections, I would say, are 70% about good logistics. But we count on having adequate resources to manage these kinds of problems.


source: correspondent Joseph d'Urso interviewed Tamar Zhvania Chairperson of the Central Elections Commission of Georgia in Tbilisi on 21 August 2016

photo: Tamar Zhvania (archive picture)