On 20 July 2017, the President of Georgia vetoed amendments in the Local Self-Government Code and Election Code. The President believes that the spirit of both of the laws weakens the democratic process in the country as well as pluralism and the population’s involvement in the functioning of the state. Giorgi Margvelashvili has also given a negative assessment to the enactment of changes related to the election environment three months before the elections and reminded the Government of Georgia of the appeals of our international partners. The President stated: “Our international partners have called upon us not to make changes related to the election environment in an election year. Both of these laws, which concern the election environment and should not be adopted in an election year, were in fact adopted just three months before the elections.”
FactCheck took interest in the accuracy of the statement.
Just a few months before the 2017 local elections, amendments are about to be enacted in the Election Code and the Local Self-Government Code of Georgia. If adopted, some of these changes will have either a direct or indirect influence over the 2017 local elections. At the present moment, the changes were approved by the Parliament of Georgia at three parliamentary hearings although the President of Georgia did not sign the draft law, used his right to veto and returned the document to the Parliament of Georgia with motivated remarks. The Parliament of Georgia will review these motivated remarks and most likely override the President’s veto without difficulty.
Since the day when the aforementioned changes were initiated, opposition parties, NGOs and a large portion of the public offered a great deal of criticism; this notwithstanding, the changes were ultimately adopted without transparency of procedure and with significant procedural violations (see FactCheck’s article on this topic). The fact of the enactment of the changes several months before the elections caused particular dissatisfaction. Representatives of civil society still call upon the Parliament of Georgia to take into account the President’s motivated remarks and thereby ensure that the adoption of detrimental changes are prevented.
Changes enacted before the elections are highlighted in the National Democratic Institute’s (NDI) election delegation’s report which was published on 21 July (p. 9). According to the delegation’s assessment, the timing of the enactment of the changes just several months before the elections is concerning. Additionally, the necessity to enact the reforms hastily was not properly explained to the delegation. The delegation calls upon the Parliament of Georgia to abstain from making significant changes in the election related legislation if it is less than one year before the elections (p. 21).
Of note is that the Venice Commission’s Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters clearly emphasises that the stability of legislation is vital for a democracy and trust toward elections. Laws which are amended frequently or changed one year before the elections might confuse a voter and create the impression that election legislation is a strong instrument in the hands of those who have authority while a voter’s voice does not in fact have real weight. According to the Code: “The fundamental elements of electoral law; in particular, the electoral system proper, membership of electoral commissions and the drawing of constituency boundaries should not be open to amendment less than one year before an election or should be written in the constitution or at a level higher than ordinary law.” The Venice Commission believes that election reforms in general have to be implemented sufficiently earlier than the next elections.
At the same time, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Venice Commission have expressed their negative attitude multiple times in regard to amending Georgia’s election legislation one year before elections. They did the same in their assessment of the 2016 Parliamentary elections.
Amendments initiated four months before the local elections which will affect the 2017 elections to some extent contradicts international best practice. The aforementioned amendments have been the subject of criticism of the opposition and the NGO sector since the day of their initiation. Nevertheless, in spite of the opinion of the opposition and civil society as well as numerous appeals from international partners, the ruling party adopted election environment related changes in three parliamentary hearings a few months before the elections.
Therefore, FactCheck concluded that President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s statement is TRUE.