OSCE/ODIHR, Venice Commission issue joint urgent opinion on draft amendments to Georgian electoral code

  • The opinion was requested by former Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze on April 9. Photo: Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge

Agenda.ge, 1 May 2021 - 18:01, Tbilisi,Georgia

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Venice Commission have issued a joint opinion on draft amendments to the Election Code of Georgia. 

This Joint Opinion notes the positive changes in the draft amendments to the Election Code, including those related to measures tackling misuse of administrative resources, strengthening the process for determination of the election results, and enhancement of the electoral dispute resolution process”, the document reads.

However, it says that ‘concerns are raised with some of the proposed amendments, for example those concerning the composition of election commissions’. 

Moreover, while some outstanding recommendations for specific changes to the legal framework previously put forward by ODIHR and the Venice Commission are addressed in this legislative initiative, many fundamental issues remain however unaddressed. A more comprehensive and systemic reform is still needed”, it also notes.

The authors of the joint opinion further state that the current legislative amendment initiative is not based on a comprehensive review of the legislation but is rather targeted at overcoming a political stalemate and addressing political concerns that arose during the last parliamentary elections of October 31, 2020.

Opposition parties who have won seats in last year's parliamentary elections refused to take up their mandates for over six months. Photo: Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge

Expressing their readiness to assist the Georgian authorities to further review the Election Code, ‘to bring it closer in line with international standards and good practice’ the Venice Commission and ODIHR make the following key recommendations for further improvement of the draft amendments:

  • to consider introducing a qualified (e.g. two-thirds) parliamentary majority vote or a double majority requirement (requiring a majority among MPs both of the ruling parties and the opposition parties) for the election of the chairperson and non-partisan members of the Central Election Commission (CEC), with a final anti-deadlock mechanism. To require higher credentials for non-partisan CEC members and ensure a diverse membership in the selection commission that undertakes a transparent, merit-based nomination process;
  • to remove the specific restrictions of the right for a party to appoint a member to the CEC under draft Article 13(1)b) and c), i.e. the conditions that the party is entitled to state funding and that at least one of the party members actually “carries out activities of the member of the parliament” thus excluding parties boycotting parliament;
  • to further amend the draft provisions on the selection process of members of District Election Commissions (DECs) and Precinct Election Commissions (PECs), so as to ensure, inter alia, a transparent, genuinely merit-based process for the appointment of non-partisan members as well as the right for a party to appoint a member to an election commission – where applicable – without the conditions that the party is entitled to state funding and that at least one of the party members actually “carries out activities of the member of the Parliament”, in line with recommendation B;
  • to clearly set out in the law on what grounds the removal of party-nominated election commission members may be based. 

Parliamentary elections in Georgia last autumn were held amid the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge

They also recommend:

  • prohibiting both the presence of partisan representatives and campaign activity in the areas around polling stations on election day;
  • adopting a comprehensive regulatory framework that specifies clear and objective criteria for granting and conducting recounts and annulments to ensure transparent, fair and uniform practice in the counting and tabulation of results and handling of postelection disputes; 
  • facilitating the timely handling of election disputes in the courts by allowing electronic submission of complaints to the courts, submission until midnight on the deadline day, and the possibility for remote hearings; 
  • further extending the timeframes for submission and adjudication of appeals and ensuring that technical formalities do not prevent due consideration of complaints; 
  • addressing previous Venice Commission and ODIHR recommendations requiring single mandate electoral districts to be of equal or similar voting population; 
  • establishing a detailed and comprehensive regulatory framework for the use of new voting technologies. In light of the limited time remaining before the 2021 local elections, it may be that a pilot project for certain electronic technologies is the only viable option for the next elections.

The ruling Georgian Dream party has tweeted:

The opinion was requested by former Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze on March 9. Nicos Alivizatos, Michael Frendo and Ms Katharina Pabel acted as rapporteurs for the Venice Commission, while Marla Morry was appointed as legal expert for the ODIHR.