Discussions on how to hold parliamentary elections in a safe environment should start
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the public attention is mainly focused on health and socio-economic issues. However, while resolving the problems related to the pandemic is vital, we must not forget the issues that are necessary for the long term democratic development of the country. Elections are among them, which are to be held in about 6 months, and it is still unclear exactly what electoral system we are pursuing and what kind of amendments will be made to the "Election Code". The situation is aggravated by the fact that the fight against the pandemic will continue for the remaining months before the elections, and even on election day most probably all restrictions needed to contain the epidemic will not be lifted. Therefore, it is important for the government to take concrete steps to dispel the existing ambiguity.
Although the working group tries its best to reform the electoral legislation, it is still unknown to the public exactly when and how the ruling party intends to make constitutional and other legislative amendments. Since the state of emergency has been declared in the country and during this time the constitution cannot be amended, it is important for the public to be aware of specific plans in this regard.
The second important issue concerns the October 31 parliamentary elections. The issue of holding elections during the pandemic is relevant for many countries around the world today. Discussions are underway on how the pre-election campaign and voting could be conducted in the face of the pandemic, as it seems that some restrictions on mass gatherings of people may remain in force for several months. A couple of methods of participating in elections are considered, including remote voting (electronically or by mail), spreading voting process over several days, etc. Some elections have already been postponed. More specifically, from February 28 to April 30 this year, at least 52 countries and territories have decided to postpone elections and referendums, including 17 national elections or referendums. 19 countries and territories still have held scheduled elections.
Although epidemiologists predict that the scale of the pandemic and the threat posed by it will be significantly reduced in October, it is likely that some limitations may still remain. Given Georgia's context, many alternative methods of voting will not work because it will not have the trust of political parties and the public. Therefore, it is necessary to:
- Start working, with the involvement of epidemiologists, election administration, political parties and civil society organizations, on all possible scenarios to determine appropriate measures to ensure a safe environment for elections;
- Develop appropriate normative acts for holding elections in the conditions of temporary restrictions, where specific regulations will be written so that it is technically possible to organize all the necessary procedures;
- If necessary, provide appropriate equipment and technical facilities to create a safe environment for the health of the election administration and voters in the face of restrictions. The members of the election commissions should also be retrained.
- In the conditions of restrictions, the rules of election observation should be developed, etc.
Based on the above, we call on the executive and legislative authorities of Georgia to start active consultations on this issue with the Central Election Commission of Georgia, political parties, local civil society organizations working on electoral issues, representatives of friendly countries and international organizations. If these and other measures are not taken, high voter turnout and the possibility of proper election observation will not be ensured. If at least one of these conditions is not met, the legitimacy of the election may be at stake.