For the past five weeks, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (ENM) has sought to induce
the maximum number of political parties, in particular its main opposition rival, the Georgian Dream bloc headed by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, to sign up to a four-point code of conduct. The code of conduct is aimed at ensuring that the October 1 parliamentary election campaign is peaceful, free, and fair, and that all parties participating agree in advance to accept the outcome as legitimate if it is assessed as such by international election observers.
Concluding such an agreement would be a public-relations victory for the ENM. But the chances of doing so now appear remote after the head of the OSCE/ODIHR International Election Observation Mission said it is not the task of that mission to rule on the “legitimacy” of the election.
The four-point declaration unveiled by the ENM in mid-July
would commit political parties that sign it to reject violence, hate-speech and attempts to buy votes, and to recognize the election results promulgated by the Central Election Commission, provided that “observer organizations with a credible reputation” deem them legitimate.
Two opposition parties represented in the outgoing parliament -- the New Rightists and the Christian-Democratic Movement -- indicated that they would sign the ENM’s declaration, as did the National Democratic Party. But Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream categorically rejected
as unacceptable any a priori endorsement of the election results.
This Affects You Too, a coalition of NGOs and media organizations established in February
to lobby for amendments to the controversial new Law on Political Parties, also expressed reservations. The group had earlier unveiled
its own 17-point memorandum for ensuring the ballot is free and fair, which Georgian Dream had accepted.
The Ambassadorial Working Group (AWG) comprising senior diplomats from OSCE member states issued a statement
on August 17 urging Georgian political parties to endorse that 17-point code of conduct. That statement affirmed the signatories’ strong support for “Georgia’s democratic development, and in particular the fundamental principles of free and fair elections, a level playing field for all participants, equal access to media, and respect for the rule of law.”
It appealed to political parties “to respect both the election results validated by the Central Election Commission, and a process assessed by independent international observer organizations, in the first instance the OSCE/ODIHR, as having met international standards and norms.”
No previous Georgian election has ever been deemed by an OSCE/ODIHR observer mission to have unequivocally met those norms. The January 2008 presidential ballot in which Saakashvili was reelected for a second term despite opposition complaints that the vote was rigged was said to be “in essence consistent with most OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards for democratic elections.” At the same time, the monitoring mission also noted
“significant” and “serious” challenges to the fulfillment of unspecified OSCE commitments.
The OSCE final report on the parliamentary election four months later concluded that “the authorities and other political stakeholders made efforts to conduct these elections in line with OSCE and Council of Europe commitments. However, the IEOM identified a number of problems
which made this implementation uneven and incomplete.
Also on August 17, This Affects You Too amended its original 17-point document, adding an 18th point that reads: “We declare publicly that we will recognize the results of elections, held under the abovementioned terms, summarized in line with legal procedures and deemed legitimate by observer organizations with credible reputation.” But the ENM rejected that revised version and again advocated incorporating the key points of its four-point draft code into the original 17-point code of conduct drafted by This Affects You Too.
The OSCE/ODIHR International Election Observation Mission has, however, effectively rendered irrelevant the formulation that participating parties agree to accept the election outcome as legitimate if “credible” international monitors designate it as such. Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on August 22, veteran Bulgarian diplomat Nikolai Vulchanov, who heads that mission, said, “We are not here to determine whether the election is legitimate or not.”
“We are here to establish, based on a body of facts collected by our observers, whether the election complied with the legislation and the international commitments of Georgia, but that’s where we stop,” Vulchanov explained
Vulchanov’s mission has not yet issued its first assessment of the election campaign. But a delegation from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly that visited Tbilisi last week expressed concern
over “questionable decisions” by the State Audit Office, including the “selective” imposition of “disproportionate” and “harsh” penalties “without clear or transparent guidelines.”
Meanwhile, This Affects You Too has accused the Georgian authorities of acting in an “excessively biased” way aimed at “oppressing opposition parties.” In a statement
on August 10, the group said those activities were “unprecedented in their intensity and scale,” a possible allusion to the repeated multimillion dollar fines imposed on Georgian Dream for perceived violations of the law that regulates spending by political parties. The statement further claimed that the enforcement of legislation on political parties has been “arbitrary and flawed.”