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Ex-Head of CEC Speaks of Political Plans
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 15 Aug.'13 / 18:41

Ex-chairman of the Central Election Commission, Zurab Kharatishvili, said on Thursday that he wants to form a “new political center”, which will seek a middle ground in current highly polarized political spectrum of the country.
 
Kharatishvili, who resigned on August 12 to pursue career in the politics, said he would unveil key principles of his political platform on August 20 and based on those principle he would engage in consultations with those political forces and individual politicians, which are not part of the existing polarization, which have “no marginal” views and are “not radicals.”

“Today the Georgian society is politicized; hate speech dominates in the politics. Everyone is engaged in a life-and-death struggle against others and everyone is striving for destruction and judgment of an opponent. As the Patriarch [of the Georgian Orthodox Church] has noted the entire country turned into a court,” Kharatishvili said.

He said his efforts in the politics would be directed towards “development of the society and establishing civil accord and peace.”

“I offer an initiative to create a new political center. Together with my co-thinkers, I will elaborate conceptual foundations based on which we will hold consultations with various political forces and individuals,” he said.

Asked if he was going to run for president in the October 27 election, Kharatishvili responded that his major goal at this stage was to create “the new political center”, adding that he will take decision whether to run or not depending on how this process of creating this new center develops.

“I think it will be defined within next two weeks,” Kharatishvili said.

“Substance of this initiative entails [cooperation] with such political forces and individuals whose political stance is more in the center, because the current political elite is very much polarized, so the cooperation will be with all those political forces, which are not [part of this] polarization, which have no marginal views… which are not radicals and which have certain value-based [political views],” he said.

He gave little specifics during the press conference, but said that, consultations were also possible with the New Rights Party; the National-Democratic Party and a former lawmaker Paata Davitaia, a strong critic of current government’s policies towards Russia and breakaway regions.

Kharatishvili was elected as CEC chairman for a five-year term by the previous Parliament in January 2010. At the time of his election, several parties, which at the time were in the opposition, specifically the Republican Party (now part of GD coalition), were against of Kharatishvili’s candidacy, claiming that he was associated with then interior minister Vano Merabishvili.

A financial auditor, Kharatishvili, who in the past was head of the KPMG Tbilisi office, gained a reputation of an efficient technocrat while serving as CEC chairman; up until now he has never showed any sign of having political ambitions.

According to June, 2013 poll, commissioned by NDI, Kharatishvili had only 7% favorability rating (the question was ‘do you like or dislike’), with 25% of respondents said they ‘dislike’ him; 30% had no opinion at all about Kharatishvili and 30% never heard of him.
 
Kharatishvili, whose resignation from CEC chairmanship eleven weeks before the presidential election was criticized by some politicians from both GD and UNM as “incomprehensible”, said that President Saakashvili, PM Ivanishvili and parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili were all informed in advance about his intention to step down. He said that he informed them about it when he held meetings with them over the past couple of months.

Kharatishvili said there were no instances of pressure on him and he also thanked both President Saakashvili and PM Ivanishvili for “support to and non-interference in the work of election administration, which helped to secure good and unimpeded work” of the CEC.
 
“There are all the conditions in place for the CEC to hold the presidential elections properly,” Kharatishvili said, but also warned that the process would be undermined if political parties start deliberate and politically-motivated attacks on CEC.

He also said that the only problem that his resignation created was to the GD and UNM, because these two major political groups have to agree who will became new CEC chairperson. “I hope the both sides will show more responsibility while tackling this issue,” he said.
 
According to the law President should select three candidates for CEC chairmanship in consultations with the civil society groups; then the political party-appointed members of CEC, except of UNM-appointed member, should select one from these three candidates. If CEC members fail to elect the new chairman, then the Parliament has to come into play and elect the new chairman from three candidates, nominated by the President.

CEC said in a statement on August 15 that Kharatishvili’s resignation “will have no affect on electoral process.”
 
“CEC is an independent institution staffed by qualified personnel and change of its chairman will have no affect on the electoral process. All the electoral procedures will be carried out transparently, fairly and in accordance to the law,” the CEC statement reads.

“Speculation that changes are anticipated in the work of the CEC is groundless,” it said. “We regret about Zurab Kharatishvili’s decision [to resign], but reforms carried out together with him have significantly improved management of the administration and no difficulties are expected in this regard.”

According to a report by international election observers from OSCE, who were monitoring October 2012 parliamentary polls, the CEC operated “efficiently and transparently”. Assuming responsibility for voter registration, as well as for media and campaign finance monitoring by other state institutions allowed the CEC to focus exclusively on the core task of election administration, “which it performed in a competent and professional manner,” according to the report.

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