Allocation of Free Political Advertising Time Remains Unjustified
On the 8th of June, with the second hearing, the Parliament of Georgia approved a package of laws concerning several changes in electoral regulations. One of the initiatives is a new rule of allocating free political advertising time. Transparency International Georgia considers the adoption of the change unjustified, as it is unfair and causes a lot of damage to most opposition political parties. Moreover, the initiative can become an example of misusing legal administrative resources for the election purposes.
According to the existing notice, that has been already abolished by the decision of the Constitutional Court of Georgia, of the Election Code of Georgia, free political advertising time should be divided between the electoral subjects that have received more than 4% of votes (in party list elections) in the last parliamentary elections, or more than 3% with the same rule in the last local self-government elections. According to the same notice, if electoral subject has overcome the set barrier with the help of electoral bloc rather than individually, only the first party in such bloc can use an advantage of free pre-election advertisement.
During the previous elections, free political advertising time used to be divided between five political parties: 1. United National Movement; 2. Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia; 3. Alliance of Patriots of Georgia; 4. Christian-Democratic Movement (currently known as Democratic Movement – United Georgia); and 5. The Georgian Labour Party. The above-mentioned notice was appealed in the Constitutional Court of Georgia. In May 2016, the Court decided that giving free political advertising time to the first party of the political bloc was discriminative, as well as non-constitutional. Consequently, the Parliament had to adopt a new regulation.
Based on the decision of the Constitutional Court, the Legal Issues Committee of the Parliament of Georgia has worked on a bill concerning the issue. The drafted law suggests that in order to receive free political advertising time, the political subjects are, as previously required, to have 4% and 3% threshold overcome in the parliamentary or local self-government elections respectively. However, in contrast to the previous regulations, all of the parties of the electoral bloc are allowed to use the free political advertising time equally. There was no change in the overall duration of the free pre-election advertisement that the broadcasting companies have to yield to the parties. As a result, with the present state of affairs, the same amount of time formerly divided between five parties, now has to be given to eleven political parties since in the earlier elections the required threshold were overcome by two electoral blocs comprised of eight parties in total. It is worth mentioning that six parties were members of winning electoral bloc – Georgian Dream. If previously, there was only one party that received the free political advertising time from the bloc, now all six parties can have this privilege.
It is obvious that the old rule concerning an allocation of free political advertising time was unfair and non-constitutional. However, the new regulation also causes several problems. First, it is not fair to divide limited advertising time between all qualified political subjects equally. According to this rule, for instance, the party that has received only 4% of the votes and the party with 50% of voters support will be given the same duration for advertising time.
It is not reasonable to equalize those parties that participate in elections individually and the parties that are united under one election bloc. It is impossible to identify a quantity of votes got by each party united under a bloc. The initiated regulation can lead to a situation when political parties that have very low support from the electorate but still manage to get mandates at the expense of electoral bloc, receive free political advertising time. Therefore, it creates a risk of a situation when financially strong parties would have an incentive to create large election blocs together with many small parties. This will lead to a split of free political advertising into very small portions that would make this instrument ineffective. It will hurt especially those political parties that are not so strong financially and cannot afford to have paid political ads.
It also needs to be emphasised that the proposed draft law is beneficial for four current and one former coalition government parties. Furthermore, it will hurt leading opposing parties such as United National Movement, Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, Christian-Democratic Movement (currently known as Democratic Movement – United Georgia) and the Georgian Labour Party. Free political advertising time will be decreased twice for the above-mentioned subjects. This kind of action in the pre-election period can be considered the use of legal administrative resources for the electoral purposes. This is an occasion when the ruling political coalition adopts a law that is mostly beneficial for it and hurtful for opposition political parties.
- Free political advertising time should be divided more fairly between qualified political parties. A new rule should take into account a number of votes got by parties in elections. In addition, the partition of free pre-election advertisement between the parties that belong to electoral bloc and individual political subjects should be differentiated. The parties that are represented at the elections individually should have more free pre-election advertisement in order to decrease incentives for misusing of election bloc creation instrument;
- A new rule of allocation of free political ad time should be formulated based on close consultations with the main political parties (especially qualified political subjects);
- A new rule should maintain overall duration of free advertisement in order to avoid increased burden on TV stations.