- ‘Elections critical to advancing Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations’;
- ‘Despite shortcomings, campaign is competitive’;
- ‘We strongly support extension of must-carry rules’;
- ‘We have expectation that election day and its aftermath will be peacefully’;
- Calls to parties ‘to work to ensure that the Georgian people judge the elections as free and fair’;
The U.S. interagency delegation, which visited Georgia on September 10-12 to assess the pre-election situation in run up to the October 1 parliamentary polls, highlighted five principles “essential for meaningful electoral process.”
The delegation was led by Thomas O. Melia, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state in the bureau of democracy, human rights and labor; it also included senior officials from the Departments of Defense and Justice, as well as from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
The delegation met with range of senior government officials and opposition leaders, among them PM Vano Merabishvili; Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia; head of the State Audit Office Lasha Tordia, who agency is in charge of monitoring political finances; Central Election Commission chairman Zurab Kharatishvili; ruling party representatives, as well as Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of Georgian Dream coalition and MP Giorgi Targamadze, leader of Christian-Democratic Movement.
“The message that we have conveyed privately in each of our meetings has been identical. The United States supports the Georgian people’s aspiration to free and democratic process. We do not favor any particular party or candidate and the United States’ government looks forward to continued close cooperation with the leaders the Georgian people choose in these elections,” Thomas Melia said at a news conference in Tbilisi on September 12.
“The upcoming elections are critical to helping Georgia advance its Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” he said. “Domestic and international perceptions of fairness of the campaign environment, including adherence to rule of law, media access, transparency and fair play in adjudication of disputes will be important indicators of Georgia’s democratic development.”
He then highlighted those five principles, which, he said, had featured in all the conversations with Georgian interlocutors and which “are essential for meaningful electoral process.”
The first one, the Depart of State official said, “is importance of level playing field.”
“It is essential that the political environment is conducive to full participation in the campaign by all parties on equal terms. Notwithstanding a variety of shortcomings in recent months, it is clear that there is a competitive campaign underway,” Melia said.
The second principle, he said, was rule of law and due process and noted that during the meetings with Georgian interlocutors the U.S. interagency delegation “stressed the importance of ensuring that campaign and election laws are applied equally and transparently, and that all participants are held to the same high standards of conduct as spelled out in Georgian law.”
“At the same time, we urged political parties to participate constructively, follow the law scrupulously, and to pursue their political goals at the ballot box,” Melia said.
He named respect for fundamental freedoms as third principle and said that respect for peaceful protests was “a hallmark of democratic society.”
“We have heard from all the political parties we have met that they have been able to travel the country, hold rallies, and get their messages out to the voters. In those conversations, we also urged that all parties should renounce violence and avoid provocations,” he said.
Access to media was named as the fourth principle with the U.S. Department of State official praising implementation of must-carry rules, which obligates cable operators to carry TV channels with news programs during the 60-day campaign period till the election day.
“We strongly support its extension through the post-election complaints process and beyond,” Melia said. “Efforts to promote wider access to a diversity of opinions and media outlets would reflect fundamental values democracies share.”
A campaign group uniting election watchdog, legal advocacy and media organizations again called on the government earlier on September 12 to extend must-carry rules beyond the election day. In response incumbent parliamentary speaker Davit Bakradze reiterated the authorities’ position on this issue, saying that keeping this provision as legally binding obligation on cable networks was not appropriate; he, however, also indicated that the authorities would welcome and encourage keeping this rule without having any legally binding obligations.
The fifth principle, named by the U.S. Department of State official, was “constructive engagement.”
“We have every expectation, based on the political parties’ commitment to contain any violence and the government’s commitment that security forces will be scrupulously professional, that election day and its immediate aftermath will unfold peacefully,” Melia said.
“We certainly hope this will be the case,” he continued. “We remind all parties that after October 1, they will need to work together constructively in the new parliament to advance Georgia’s democratic and economic development, and they should conduct their campaigns in that spirit.”
He also called on all the parties “to work to ensure that the Georgian people judge the elections as free and fair.”