Central Election Commission’s (CEC) declared strategy to increase its transparency was undermined by events following the controversy over the submission of the ruling party’s list, according to the OSCE/ODIHR’s first pre-election interim report.
The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) opened its election observation mission on April 10 and its first interim report covers the period between April 10 and April 25.
Opposition parties’ allegations surrounding submission of the ruling party’s list of MP candidates on April 21 was among one of the most hotly disputed issues in the reporting period.
“The overall inclusive and transparent registration process was somewhat overshadowed by events surrounding the submission of the candidate list of the governing United National Movement (UNM), which opposition-appointed members of the CEC demanded to see, but were not given access to by the CEC chairperson in the hours which followed the deadline for submitting candidate lists,” the report says.
The ruling party representatives brought the party-list to the CEC a few minutes before the deadline expired at 6pm on April 21, but the opposition has claimed that the National Movement, caught by surprise by Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze’s last-minute decision to withdraw as a candidate, submitted only “empty papers” and then, after the deadline had expired, secretly removed them, replacing them with an amended list overnight on April 22.
Monitors from the OSCE observation mission were present at the CEC at the time of controversy. The report, which recounts the events, says that CEC chairman, Levan Tarkhnishvili, initially refused to show the ruling party’s list to the opposition members of the CEC citing that the CEC’s chancellery where the lists were kept was closed and the information would be available only the next morning.
“Several leading opposition politicians arrived at the CEC to lend weight to the demand,” the report continues. “The list, which was ultimately produced after more than four hours, was not kept in the room which the CEC Chairperson had initially pointed out and which had been guarded by the opposition. These events were characterized by lack of transparency, as some CEC members and staff restricted access to information for other CEC members.”
While reviewing the legal framework, the report notes that although the election code is “generally conducive to the conduct of democratic elections, it contains a number of substantive shortcomings.”
Campaign provisions, according to the report, are among the shortcoming. “[The provision] now permit unrestricted campaigning by political officials and use of administrative resources for campaign purposes,” the report reads.
“These latter provisions are problematic and opposition parties and domestic observers are very critical of them. Overall, and despite the recent amendments, many gaps, inconsistencies, and ambiguities still remain, with the potential to impede, and potentially to undermine, the effective implementation of the law. The benefit of positive aspects of the law will largely depend on the implementation of the provisions in good faith,” it said.
The report also said, citing local observers that “considerably fewer occurrences of intimidation” had been noted so far, than before the January 5 presidential elections.
OSCE/ODIHR long-term observation mission is conducting quantitative and qualitative media monitoring of five TV stations - Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB), Rustavi 2, Mze TV, Kavkasia TV and Adjara TV – and of four newspapers – Rezonansi, 24 Saati, Alia and Kviris Palitra.
Preliminary monitoring results, the report says, indicate that GPB has devoted similar proportions of its political and election prime time news coverage to the main opposition bloc (20%) and the ruling party (15%). While 59% of the ruling party’s coverage was positive and 39% neutral in tone, only 5% of the main opposition bloc’s coverage was positive, and 95% neutral, according to the report.
“In addition, public TV devoted significant and favorable coverage to activities of the authorities, outside the campaign context, thus benefiting candidates with a pro-government orientation,” the report reads.
In the reporting period Rustavi 2 TV, which the report says, is the most popular channel after the closure of Imedi TV, was boycotting the nine-party opposition bloc. Mze TV, part of the same media holding, was adhering to a similar approach. The both television stations resumed covering the bloc’s activities from April 28.