Ghost Voting in the Georgian Parliament, continued

15 July, 2011
In an earlier blog post, we raised concerns about the systematic practice of 'ghost voting' within the Georgian Parliament. Our report quickly caught the media’s attention and prompted several TV reports and news articles, in one of which an MP who was depicted in our earlier video evidence of ghost voting admitted to the violation. Parliamentary rules specify that votes have equal weight and MPs are not allowed to delegate their right to vote (Rules of Procedures of the Parliament of Georgia, Art. 140). Therefore, MPs are prohibited from using their absent colleagues’ identification cards to cast a vote. We sent a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to MP Khatuna Gogorishvili, who chairs the Procedural Issues and Rules Committee, to inquire about the number of MPs fined for ghost voting since 2008 (i.e. for the duration of sitting Parliament’s term so far). We received a response saying that we should contact the office of the Parliament Mandaturi (a position similar to the Sergeant-at-Arms in the U.S. House of Representatives). On June 29, we sent a FOI request to Murtaz Shaluashvili, the Chief Mandaturi, inquiring whether ghost voting had occurred since 2008 and whether anyone had been punished for the violation. The Chief Mandaturi is obliged by law to ensure that MPs abide by the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament of Georgia during plenary sessions. We never received an official response letter from Shaluashvili’s office, but in a telephone conversation, Shaluashvili told us he had no right to disclose such information. Shaluashvili could not cite the law prohibiting him from responding to our request and he agreed to get back to us once he clarified the law. We didn’t hear anything further from his office after that. However, on July 11 we received a letter from Eter Svianaidze, head of the Parliament's Organizational Department (to whom Shaluashvili’s office probably forwarded our FOI request, since we never contacted this department). The letter's content was surprising: in it, the Organizational Department claimed that no ghost voting had occurred in the sitting parliament. We find this response very troubling, given that it was made in spite of widely broadcast videos showing precisely the opposite to be true. It indicates that there is little will within Parliament to correct these violations and ensure that the basic procedural and democratic requirements of lawmaking are met. The lack of punishment for MPs who engage in ghost voting and the continuing denial that any violations have occurred ensures that Parliament’s procedural rules will continue to be flouted in the future. We once again call on the respective bodies to act in good faith and abide by the law.
Author: George Topouria