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Campaign Group Slams 'Uneven Playing Field' Ahead of Polls
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 11 Aug.'12 / 01:32

An umbrella group, uniting watchdog, legal advocacy, election observer and media organizations, said on Friday that instead of securing level playing field ahead of the October 1 parliamentary elections, the state agencies were acting in "excessively biased" manner favoring the ruling party and targeting opposition.

This Affects You Too, a campaign group launched in February with a purpose of improving electoral environment, released on August 10 a strongly-worded statement, slamming authorities for, as it puts, being "oriented towards oppressing opposition parties."  

It says the state agencies' actions in respect of political parties "are unprecedented with its intensity and scale."

"Cases studied by us allow to conclude, that the state agencies' actions in terms of pre-election period are excessively biased and oriented towards oppressing opposition parties, in particular the main opposition coalition [Georgian Dream, led by Bidzina Ivanishvili]," the statement reads.

It says that several serious allegations involving vote-buying by the ruling party, as well as misuse of administrative resources and illegal party donations, remain without any proper reaction.

The campaign group says that in the beginning of its activities earlier this year, the political parties' financial monitoring unit at the State Audit Office (SAO) "was trying to represent its actions as being more or less unbiased."

"But even such attempts are no longer made today," the group said, adding that only "inadequately" few number of decisions have been made in respect of the ruling party, while "large violations are left without any reaction".

"It makes us think that the State Audit Office is actually yet another lever in the hands of the ruling party and its activities are not based on the principle of political neutrality," it said.

The group said that first signs of "clearly uneven playing field" emerged after the authorities "tailored legislation on own political interests" following Bidzina Ivanishvili's decision to go into politics in October, 2011. It said that while tightening political party funding legislation, laws related to oversight of misuse of administrative resources remained "disproportionately soft".

The problem is further exacerbated with "arbitrary and flawed enforcement" of legislation by the state against the opposition parties, This Affects You Too said.

The group's statement then brings as an example the state audit agency's recent case against Bidzina Ivanishvili and his political ally, ex-footballer Kakha Kaladze, when the State Audit Office (SAO) asked the two men to return back to their bank accounts several million in cash they had withdrawn this year. SAO said failure of Ivanishvili and Kaladze to present documented information about how they spent millions in cash was triggering a reasonable suspicion that they illegally used the sum for their political activities. Kaladze has already been fined with USD 10.3 million into this case and a multi-million fine may also be imposed on Ivanishvili.

This Affects You Too said that in this case against Kaladze and Ivanishvili SAO was acting beyond its authority. It also said that the case revealed "totally unacceptable" trend of placing the legal burden of proof on individuals.

"When the state agency with significant resources fails to provide sufficient evidence, it is inadmissible to shift this burden on an individual and to demand from this person to prove legality of his/her actions," This Affects You Too said.

The group also said that courts were also failing with thier duties to adjudicate disputes fairly and objectively.

"Monitoring of [court hearings] showed, that the judiciary is more loyal towards the State Audit Office not rejecting even those motions of the State Audit Office which seriously lack justifications," the group said. "Unfortunately, we do not see today that the law is being enforced properly and impartially. Instead, laws are being applied selectively, which has irremediable consequences on the electoral environment."

"We appeal to the international observers, international organizations and diplomatic corps accredited in Georgia, not to spare efforts for improving election environment in Georgia and to give timely and appropriate assessment to state agencies' repressive actions," This Affects You Too said.

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