NGOs assess current developments in Georgia - საერთაშორისო გამჭვირვალობა - საქართველო

NGOs assess current developments in Georgia

28 October, 2015


We, the undersigned nongovernmental organizations, wish to bring attention of the Georgian public and the international community to the current situation in Georgia with regards to human rights protection, the rule of law and adherence to democratic values. These developments affect the environment ahead of the 2016 parliamentary elections.

Since the electoral transition of power in 2012, which was one of the most significant achievements in the recent history, Georgia has taken some steps to ensure and further strengthen protection of human rights and respect of democratic values. Among others, particularly noteworthy is the signature of the Association Agreement with the European Union which reaffirmed Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Despite the fact that in the recent years reforms have been undertaken and implemented in order to tackle problems in various areas, significant challenges remain which directly affect the pre-election environment.

1. Electoral Reform

Electoral system, composition of election administrations, election disputes and misuse of administrative resources are the issues in context of which the need for the electoral reform has been raised numerous times by civil society, political parties and other stakeholders. The most pressing among these is reforming the electoral system in order to ensure proportionality of votes as reflected in parliamentary mandates, equal weight of votes, increase women’s representation, and national and local representation.

To address the above mentioned challenges in the electoral system, an unprecedented consensus in the recent Georgian history has been reached by 14 political parties and 8 nongovernmental organizations, who have come to an agreed vision that the majoritarian system should be abolished and the country should move to a fully proportional system for election of the Parliament of Georgia. This proposal has been presented to the government.

These opinions have not been taken into account by the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, which presented its own vision for the electoral reform - equalization of the majoritarian district sizes and introduction of a 50% threshold for majoritarian elections for the 2016 parliamentary elections. This proposal partially addresses shortcomings of the current system, however fails to resolve all existing challenges imposed by the current mixed electoral system in a complex manner.

Furthermore, it is still unknown what the new borders of majoritarian districts will be or how the government plans to, in light of the Constitutional Court’s ruling, solve the disproportionality between the majoritarian districts, which could result in automatic merging or splitting of many districts. The decisionmaking process around this issue lacks transparency and stakeholder engagement.

It must be noted that according to the proposed constitutional amendments the government is planning to conduct fully proportional elections only in 2020. The opposition parties started collecting signatures of supporters in order to initiate constitutional amendments to introduce a proportional electoral system. Neither the government, nor the opposition have enough votes in the Parliament to introduce constitutional amendments. Therefore, without a consensus, it is highly unlikely that changes to the electoral system will be introduced for the 2016 or the following elections. 

We have to further emphasize that the amendments proposed by the government do not tackle the fundamental problems of the existing electoral system. This will have an adverse impact on the free and fair 2016 parliamentary elections and hinder Georgia’s democratic development.

2. Media Environment

Concurrent fundamental changes at four national broadcasters in September 2015 has significantly affected the media environment of the country. Suspension of social and political shows by Imedi and Georgian Public Broadcaster, as well as, freezing of assets of Rustavi 2 and bankruptcy claims filed by Maestro, create suspicions of interference in editorial policies of the most popular TVs stations with national coverage.

This is further aggravated by the fact that Georgian Public Broadcaster is still not free from political influence. Since the beginning of 2013, the Board of Trustees of Georgian Public Broadcaster operates with 7 members, instead of 9. Despite many calls from international and local nongovernmental organizations, the Parliament of Georgia has not tried to re-conduct a competition to fully staff the Board of Trustees, leaving the board not adequately representative. Elections of the Board of Trustees of Adjarian TV and Radio of Georgian Public Broadcaster were also conducted with similar legal violations. 

Despite high public interest and many calls from nongovernmental organizations, fast and effective investigation of crimes against journalists is not ensured in the country. The Main Prosecutor’s Office does not provide information regarding ongoing investigations and this makes it impossible to evaluate the media environment in this context.

There are also cases of possible illegal obstruction of journalistic work, which affect not only the level of media freedom in the country but also safety and professional work of individual journalists.

All of the above-mentioned put media pluralism and information available to voters prior to mid-term and upcoming parliamentary elections under threat. 

3. Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Speech

Several threats to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech have been identified. There were cases of violent confrontation between protesters and opposing groups at several peaceful rallies, unfounded and unproportional interference from law enforcement agencies and usage of administrative and criminal charges against protesters. Charges of hooliganism, noncompliance with legitimate requests of a police officer and defacement of public property were used to limit freedom of assembly and freedom of speech of protesters in violation of the Constitution of Georgia and international standards. Unfortunately, court rulings also contributed to interpretation of laws in this manner.

4. Court

Recent developments in the court system, and more concretely in the High Council of Justice, as well as court discussions of high profile cases and comments of high officials in regards to the courts presiding over these cases made it clear once again that independence of court system remains a significant challenge. Furthermore, legal changes initiated as part of the third wave of the reform of the court system includes threats to effective court system and its independence.

5. Law enforcement agencies

With the initiation of the reform of Ministry of Interior and Prosecutor’s Office, the state attempted to increase independence and political neutrality of the system, in terms of accountability and transparency. Existing fundamental problems of the system, that can’t be addressed with these reforms, leave room for political influence on law enforcement, possibility which is further aggravated by the existing institutional practices.

Taking into account all of the above mentioned, we call upon:

Government of Georgia:

  • to take effective steps to address these shortfallings and ensure free and fair pre-election environment;

Court and law enforcement agencies:

  • to ensure freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, as guaranteed by the Constitution of Georgia, and to adopt adequate and uniform practises in regards to enforcement of law, so that the fundamental principle of equality before law is not violated and the conflicts are not further escalated.