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Commentary: Maintaining a peaceful environment ahead of Georgia’s election
22 September 2016

The United States Ambassador to Georgia, Ian Kelly, this week was quoted as describing the campaign ahead of the 8 October parliamentary elections as "very good and exemplary".  Indeed, those familiar with Georgia's elections history are pleasantly surprised, but point out that there are two weeks of campaigning yet, and of course election day itself, and surprises cannot be excluded.

This is a commentary prepared by the editorial team of Caucasus Concise.

A number of initiatives have been presented, aimed at ensuring a continued peaceful environment, as the election approaches and things start to heat up.

Tamar Zhvania, Chairperson of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Georgia and Giorgi Mghebrishvili, Minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of Georgia on Monday signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU).

"Today, we moved to the new step of cooperation, since we aim to ensure safe election environment for everyone, which meets international standards. We intend to organize elections for the voters on a high professional level for the October 8 Parliamentary Elections, where they may perform their civil duty in a completely free atmosphere. We utterly acknowledge the urgency of firm protection of principles of political neutrality and we ensure those principles in the frames of today's agreement", said Tamar Zhvania.

Giorgi Mgebrishvili, after signing the memorandum stated that the CEC and the Ministry of Internal Affairs will actively cooperate to ensure the voting process in a free and safe environment. "I think that proper development of the cooperation between the CEC and MIA will guarantee the essential basis for peaceful, transparent and credible election environment" he said.

Keeping party supporters apart during campaigning

Another initiative came from the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) - the governing party in the country. The Executive Secretary of Georgian Dream, Irakli Kobakhidze presented a memorandum, which provides for the safe environment in the election period.  It says,

"We, participants of the 8 October parliamentary elections, realizing that peaceful elections are a necessary prerequisite for the development of democracy and consolidation of political system in Georgia, realizing that arrangement of counter events against political parties participating in the elections creates the danger of provoking violence, agree to ensure that our activists are distanced from the events held in support of other parties and to take all measures to prevent our activists' interference with the events of other parties''.

Tamar Chugoshvili from the Georgian Dream said that the memorandum is a voluntary statement of intent and not a legal document, and should therefore be universally supported

Eka Gigauri, the head of the respected Georgian NGO Transparency International (Georgia) considers the idea of a memorandum right and justified as long as its conditions are fulfilled by all parties that sign it. This view was echoed by a number of other civil society organisations.

Some political parties agreed to the idea without question. The leader of the Republican Party did not even wait to receive the letter inviting him to sign, he printed it out and signed it in front of journalists. Other opposition politicians including Irma Inashvili, Nino Burjanadze, and  Irakli Alasania also plan to sign the document. Free Democrats will sign the so-called peace document, but Alasania says the document is very weak. "I would like to remind the authorities that it is their obligation to conduct fair elections", he said.

Some political parties see no point in signing the memorandum, initiated by Georgian Dream. The UNM, National Forum, the Labor Party and State for People are not going to sign it.

Georgia's main opposition party, former President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM), the National Forum, the Labour Party and State for the People coalition have all refused to sign the memorandum.

The UNM said in a statement that the memorandum is "cynical and poorly planned PR stunt" by the GD, saying the ruling team was a major source and threat for provocations.

"We are not going to sign the memorandum, but we promise that the UNM will not disrupt the election campaign of any party," Giorgi Tughushi, a member of the UNM stated.

Mamuka Katsitadze, a member of the New Rights party that is now aligned with opera-singer-turned-opposition-leader Paata Burchuladze's State for the People coalition, labelled the memorandum "a farce", saying his party had no intention in officially heading the GD's call.

Conditions where incidents are likely to happen need to be avoided

With or without a memorandum Georgian political party leaders have responsibilities. Conditions where supporters of different parties are in the same vicinity at the same time create dangers of violence, not only in Georgia but everywhere in the world. They make the work of the law enforcing agencies much more difficult. It is everybody's duty to avoid such occurrences.

The situation has been well summarised by Georgia's leading NGO, the Georgia Young Lawyers Association. In its interim report of the election situation GYLA says the pre-election environment in Georgia, are "normal" and the current climate is calm. The report says that no particularly grave or large-scale violations have been noted [during the pre-election campaign]. In general, the pre-election campaign is taking place in normal conditions. "However recent events including mutual accusations among parties, create the risk of turning the peaceful conditions into a more polarised and tense pre-election campaign. In these circumstances it is very important to see state agencies act with full adherence to the principle of political neutrality and adequately react to every case of violation," said the organisations Chair Ana Natsvlishvili.

If the calm that has prevailed over the last three months of election campaigning remains for the next two weeks and at the elections themselves there will be two winners on 9 October - the first the party that wins the election, and the other, not less important, the Georgian people who could be proud of exhibiting political maturity, as is expected from a modern European state.

This commentary was prepared by the editorial team of Caucasus Concise, with reporting from various news agencies and websites.

 

 

 

 

 

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