IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Georgian national platform calls for democratic values and electoral legislation to be upheld, and the political will of Georgia's citizens to be expressed, in the parliamentary election of 1 October 2012
Statement of the Georgian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership’s conference held on 15 September 2012
“Parliamentary elections and Georgia’s EU integration prospects”:
The 1 October parliamentary election is an extremely important challenge for Georgia’s statehood and democratic development. Ensuring a free and fair election environment and holding the elections to high standard will in large part determine the future progress of Georgia’s European integration.
It is the state that is bound to ensure free elections, so accordingly the government bears a large share of responsibility. At the same time, it is important that all actors in the election process comprehend their own share of responsibility and act in a way that respects the rule of law and conforms to civilized and democratic practices.
The National Platform urges all participants in the electoral process to react appropriately to the problems outlined below in the short period of time remaining before the election in order to ensure that Georgia’s citizens can express their will in a fair and competitive environment.
Growing polarization and tension ahead of the election
The pre-election situation in Georgia is characterized by growing polarization and tension, which inhibits a healthy and competitive election process. Conditions of competition are being violated, the development of a democratic political culture is being hindered and tension is escalating, creating the danger of civil confrontation.
One of the causes of the polarization and tension is the use of hate speech, insulting terminology, unfounded accusations, sharply negative PR and, in some cases, the use of physical violence against political opponents. Such “rules of the game” are unacceptable in a country which declares that its main goal is European integration and, consequently, strives to establish European values and democratic standards.
Accordingly, the Georgian National Platform urges:
* The Georgian government and its relevant bodies – as the main bearer of responsibility for the holding of the election in a fair and equitable environment – to approach the issue of forming the election environment with a deep sense of accountability and not create any bases for the further escalation of tensions and not allow unfair or selective approaches to be applied towards political subjects;
* Political subjects to comprehend their own share of responsibility refrain from discrediting or provoking political opponents in an unacceptable manner and uphold the rules of healthy competition in order to reduce existing dangers;
* Media outlets to comprehend the importance of their role in forming public opinion and not facilitate further polarization, especially while covering electoral processes, and be guided by journalistic ethics and the norms of professionalism.
Media environment issues
The existence of a pluralistic media environment is of decisive importance in ensuring free and fair elections, the free expression of the will of the voters, and the development of democratic processes. Access to a diverse array of information is critically important both during the campaign period and during and after the polling day in order to ensure trust in the democratic electoral process.
Prolongation of “must carry, must offer” law
To this end, the enshrinement of the “must carry, must offer” principles in law (obliging cable TV providers to carry all stations that cover news) has been a step forward. However, the matter that these regulations expire on Election Day does not correspond to the public interest, as the election process and the public’s high degree of interest in it does not end on polling day.
Furthermore, the public interest in having a diverse media environment is not limited to the election period alone. A pluralistic media – given its importance and the current situation in Georgia – in reality represents such an important public interest that the state is justified in setting a special regulation.
The National Platform calls on:
* The Georgian president to immediately convene a special session of parliament and raise the issue of extending the validity of the “must carry, must offer” law in the country;
* The Georgian parliament to discuss this issue at a special session and provide legislative guarantees that the “must carry, must offer” principle is extended until the establishment of digital broadcasting in the country.
Impounded satellite antennas
One of the main factors hindering the dissemination of diverse information – even under the “must carry, must offer” law – is the population’s limited access to cable operators’ services, especially in the rural areas, where the only way to receive diverse information is with satellite dish antennas. Accordingly, discriminatory conditions are in place for a large part of the population.
We consider the impoundment of satellite dish antennas of a private TV company on the basis of so-called “reasonable suspicion” (that they were intended for distribution as part of an alleged vote-buying scheme) to be a constraint for society’s access to information and a hindrance to the formation of a fair election environment. Against this backdrop, we welcome the Intergovernmental Commission’s statement that it is willing to lift sanctions on Maestro TV’s satellite dish antennas and allow for their distribution under certain conditions.
The National Platform urges the government and other political actors to ensure that this process goes ahead quickly and effectively, that a deal is reached among political subjects on the basis of non-discriminatory and mutually acceptable conditions and that satellite dish antennas are distributed as quickly as possible ahead of the election.
*The National Platform, for its part, is willing to take part in monitoring the process and ensuring that the public receives detailed information about it;
* The National Platform believes that in future mass media outlets, including independent TV stations, should not be hindered from developing their own distribution systems.
Competitive election environment
The most important precondition for conducting the election in accordance with Western standards is the creation of a competitive and equitable pre-election environment. This implies honouring the supremacy of the law and prioritizing the interests of voters. Parity among the election subjects is significantly hindered by several factors, one of the most important and pressing being the illegal use of administrative resources. “Illegal use of administrative resources” is defined rather narrowly in Georgian legislation and its definition in fact applies to the use of technical resources (buildings, transport, communications and news outlets) while other important manifestations of the use of administrative resources remain beyond the reach of the law.
Still, it is difficult to oversee the application of the regulations set out in the law, especially given that in many cases there is no clear boundary between the state and the ruling party in terms of the use budgetary resources as well as the participation of state officials in election campaigning.
The Georgian National Platform urges:
* Relevant state bodies to do their utmost to stop the illegal use of administrative resources and, guided by the spirit of the law, respond adequately to violations thereof;
* Political parties with access to administrative resources to refrain from using them illegally in order to ensure equal conditions for election participants and ensure that the electoral process is not discredited.
Upholding the secret ballot principle
The National Platform is concerned about the lack of voter information regarding the secret ballot principle and, in some cases, deliberate efforts aimed at casting doubt on the secrecy of the ballot, exerting psychological pressure on voters and limiting free expression of their will. This has an extremely negative influence on the pre-election environment.
We call on the Central Electoral Commission to:
* Launch a wide-scale campaign to educate voters about polling day procedures which clearly and unequivocally states that the principle of the secret ballot will be upheld strictly and unwaveringly;
* Ensure that electoral laws and the principle of the secret ballot are upheld unwaveringly on election day.
Role of international and local observers
The Georgian National Platform believes the activities of international and local observers play an important role and thanks the international community and international organizations for sending large numbers of observers. The Platform expresses the hope that this will help ensure the transparency and credibility of the election.
We call on all subjects participating in the election to work actively with both international and local monitoring organizations in order to ensure that the election is held in a fair and transparent manner. The National Platform also expresses its willingness to cooperate actively with representatives of international and local monitoring organizations throughout the election process.
The Georgian National Platform urges political parties, the wider society and the media:
* Not to facilitate the escalation of the situation and uphold European democratic values and the universally recognized and declared norms of personal human freedom and constitutional rights;
* To ensure that Georgia’s electoral legislation is fully adhered to on election day as well as during the coverage of election day and the poll’s results;
* To respect the political will of Georgia’s citizens expressed in the election, as summarized in line with the rules established by the Georgian legislation and as recognized by local and international monitoring organizations.