Forthcoming Presidential Elections in Georgia
By Simon Gillon, Managing Editor, Government Gazette
The next elections for the President of Georgia will be conducted on 27th October 2013. These will be the 6th Presidential elections in the country since independence after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. The most recent Presidential elections were held in 2008.
Georgia has a President, a Prime Minister and a Unicameral Parliament. After the elections in 2013, scheduled changes to the constitution will reduce the powers of the President in favour of those of the Prime Minister. The President is elected by absolute majority vote through a two-round system to serve a five-year term.
The result of this year’s Presidential elections is far more difficult to predict than last time, when it was essentially a contest between the two main candidates with predictions overly tilted towards the Georgian Dream Party.
54 candidates are officially registered with the Georgian Central Election Commission to stand for President in October 2013. The former Chairman of the election commission, Zurab Kharatishvili, who stood down in August this year is one of the candidates running for President.
Kharatishvili was widely praised within Georgia for the Central Election Commission’s (CEC) management of the October 2012 parliamentary elections and for succeeding in establishing co-operation and constructive dialogue with all the political parties, overseeing a democratic election that paved the way for Georgia’s first-ever peaceful transition of power. He and the CEC were also commended by the OSCE for working “efficiently and transparently,” and for administering the elections “in a competent and professional manner.”
Under Kharatishvili’s leadership, The Central Election Commission of Georgia has been actively engaged in a wide variety of activities to improve both its own performance as an organisation, and to build strong relations with all interested stakeholders in Georgia.
The commission has engaged in extensive training of its staff and appraisal of its performance, so as to ensure free, fair and well managed elections in the country. Its staff are highly experienced professionals working in the field of electoral management and they have good systems and procedures in place to ensure the smooth running of the electoral process from end to end. They have undertaken training in Georgia, abroad (to analyse other countries’ best practice and electoral management procedures), and they have become a training hub for the Caucasus and Central Asian region in the field of electoral training.
The CEC has established the Centre of Electoral Systems Development, Reforms and Training. The centre was created based on the amendments made to the Election Code of Georgia on December 28, 2009. The main goal of the centre is: to implement electoral reforms and monitoring process, to conduct trainings and capacity building in election related subjects so as to conduct the free and fair elections in accordance with international standards. The centre’s Director Natia Zaalishvili, a seasoned electoral professional, leads the Centre with the rare combination of creativity and pragmatism and has turned Centre into a world class centre of excellence which has clearly benefitted the CEC and the overall confidence in the electoral process in Georgia . Indeed, the work of the centre in preparing for the forthcoming elections has been commended by international observers.
The Centre of Electoral Systems Development, Reforms and Trainings has conducted training for the representatives of district and precinct election commissions. The centre also has the power to issue the grants for non-governmental organizations. The grants are given in four main fields: to promote the civil sector, to inform vulnerable groups about the elections, to launch information campaign for first time voters, to conduct a GOTV campaign.
Another aspect of this development of professional expertise, and communication with stakeholders working in the field of electoral affairs, has been the CEC’s international engagement and regularly organises an annual regional conference in Georgia, which this year was attended by electoral commissioners and representatives from electoral management bodies from over 25 different countries in the region. The theme of this year’s event was “conflict management in electoral processes”, and the event was held in collaboration with the International Centre for Parliamentary Studies.
The CEC has also demonstrated innovation in its approach to strengthening its capabilities and has recently commissioned a study from the International Centre for Electoral Psychology (ICEP), in order to understand the psychology of voters better They are also studying how the experience of voters at the polling station may be interpreted, and the possible impact it may have on voting behaviour. This is indicative of the intellectual and practical level of engagement by the commission in its approach to electoral management.
Engagement with outside stakeholders has also been well managed by the CEC. Electoral Observer Missions (EOMs) are an integral part of ensuring that elections have international credibility and that the country in which they are held can ensure that the electoral machinery of the democratic process is being externally verified. As such, they are a force for stability in any country where election results are likely to be close, or where there is a polarised electorate politically. The CEC has stated that “holding transparent, free and fair elections is of paramount importance not only for the election administration, but the whole country, to ensure the prevalence of democratic values.”
Transparency and openness, and effective communication procedures are an extremely important aspect of the work of electoral commissions from around the world. The CEC publishes regular (roughly monthly) information bulletins on its website (http://www.cec.gov.ge) to keep all interested parties up-to-date with the activities in which it has been engaged over the preceding few weeks.
The most recent bulletin highlights the preparation process for the forthcoming Presidential elections, details of meetings with the representatives of diplomatic missions and international organisations, CEC co-operation with stakeholders, and meetings with ethnic minority representatives.
The website is also an interesting source of information containing press releases, details of the candidates, announcements, a photo gallery and video clips.
On 11th September, the Central Election Commission announced that Ms Tamar Zhvania has been elected as the new Chairperson of the commission. Ms Zhavania is a known figure in the electoral field as she has managed the electoral affairs brief of UNDP in Georgia rather expertly. Her reputation in this field is quintessential, especially since she has come to the job so close to the next election.
Ms Zhvania has extensive experience in working on election-related issues. For the last five years she has been in charge of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Georgia’s electoral assistance programme, and has supervised joint projects of the European Union and UNDP. She has worked on electoral issues abroad, including as international programme manager at the National Democratic Institute (NDI). She has been a representative of international observation in different countries as part of the missions of the OSCE/ODIHR, NDI and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. She has also been an executive director of the International Society of Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED).
There is no doubt that Ms Zhvania will be facing many challenges, however, international observers feel confident that with her experience coupled by the support of an extremely professional team, the 2013 Presidential elections will be conducted successfully.