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Georgian President Flouts Election Law

Commission Chairman Levan Tarkhnishvili acknowledged that failure to nominate candidates on time was a violation of the law, but only a minor one.
Commission Chairman Levan Tarkhnishvili acknowledged that failure to nominate candidates on time was a violation of the law, but only a minor one.
Mikheil Saakashvili told NGO representatives in Batumi on January 11 that in the interest of holding free and fair elections in future, he sees no problem in ignoring the legal deadline by which elections should be held for the new Central Election Commission (TsSK) chairman.

Later the same day, Saakashvili asked parliament to extend that deadline. Contradicting himself, Saakashvili stated first that "there is very little time" to elect the new chairman, and then that "two weeks earlier or later will not change anything."

In line with amendments to the Election Code passed by parliament late last month, Saakashvili should have nominated by January 8 three alternative candidates to head the TsSK. It was announced on January 8 that he would do so by January 10, but he failed to do so for reasons that remain unclear. Outgoing TsSK Chairman Levan Tarkhnishvili acknowledged that failure constituted a violation of the law, but said it was only a minor one.

On January 11, Saakashvili's spokeswoman Manana Manjgaladze said he would nominate three candidates for chairman either that evening or the following day. The six opposition parties represented on the TsSK (the Republican, Conservative, and Labor parties; the Industrialists; and the Christian-Democratic Movement and We Ourselves, which both belong to the parliament minority) must then select one of the three short-listed candidates. If they fail to reach agreement, the entire parliament is required to put the issue to a vote within seven days.

Saakashvili's stated rationale for asking parliament to postpone the deadline by two weeks was twofold. He argued, first, that the opposition should not feel under any pressure to make a decision, and second, that free and fair elections "are important for Georgia's development and ensuring national security" in light of the danger that "Georgia's enemy" (meaning Russia) plans to foment civil confrontation as a pretext for military intervention.

But the parliament has already created huge doubts whether the elections for Tbilisi mayor due in late May will be free, fair and democratic by insisting on lowering to 30 percent the minimum percentage required for a first round victory.

As of late on January 11, Saakashvili's administration had received 14 nominations for the post of TsSK chairman, Caucasus Press reported. They include outgoing Chairman Tarkhnishvili, whom opposition parties regard with suspicion and mistrust in light of alleged irregularities that marred the early presidential ballot in January 2008; Kakhaber Sopromadze, a veteran specialist on the conduct of elections; and Eka Siradze, who chairs the NGO For Fair Elections and Democracy.

Twenty-two NGOs have addressed an open letter to Saakashvili in support of Sopromadze's candidacy; 14 other NGOs back Siradze.

Other candidates are Zurab Kharatishvili, a former TsSK member who was involved in monitoring political parties' campaign spending during the May 2008 parliamentary elections; and Gia Jandieri, a vice president of the Tbilisi-based think tank New Economic School -- Georgia.

Meanwhile, a total of 41 nominations were received by the January 8 deadline for three vacant seats on the TsSK. A special commission must propose three candidates for each vacant seat to Saakashvili, who should then have forwarded to parliament by January 11 two candidates for each vacant seat.

In an interview with the website, opposition parliament deputy Jondi Baghaturia described the recently amended procedure for selecting the TsSK as "a black hole within our legislation," given that it empowers Saakashvili's United National Movement, which controls 80 percent of the parliament mandates, to approve the majority of the commission's members.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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