Georgia: All Quiet on the Election Front?

Zurab Kharatishvili, Chair of the Central Election Commission, the election administration body in Georgia, resigned on August 12, nearly two months before the presidential election. This is the first striking news in otherwise dull presidential elections campaign in Georgia.

Zurab Kharatishvili, Chairman of the Central Election Commission of Georgia, author: Congress of local and regional authorities, source: Flickr

Zurab Kharatishvili, Chairman of the Central Election Commission of Georgia, author: Congress of local and regional authorities, source: Flickr

Resignation of CEC Chair

Zurab Kharatishvili’s resignation came unexpected and was met with criticism as the change of the head of CEC so close to elections might jeopardize the whole preparation process. Kharatishvili did not speak to journalists and gave no reasons for his resignation, promising to make comments on August 15. It is already known that he plans to move to politics.

At the conference: “I don’t exclude to cooperate with Kardava and Davitaia. I express readiness to cooperate with all parties which have definite political values”

Kharatishvili had been in the office since 2010 and as any other high level executive, he was thought to be tied to the former ruling party United National Movement. Thus the announcement that he will now become a politician put a smile on many faces.

Such a bad timing gave birth to the idea that Kharatishvili’s resignation is yet another round of power games between the Georgian Dream and United National Movement – two major political parties that do not seem to be getting tired of teasing each other.

The Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, always unnecessarily honest in public statements, said Kharatishvili was “their [United National Movement] man” and resigned to “create intrigue.” He did not seem to be heart-broken over the news. UNM members hint on pressure Kharatishvili might have experienced from the government.

Absence of one man can hardly affect the functioning of the institution, which despite all the criticism seems to be capable of organizing internationally recognized elections. Georgian Dream members are not very keen on Kharatishvili. It is also possible that he decided to step down to avoid at least harsh criticism and maybe even investigation (perhaps rightful) into his activities as the head of CEC after presidential elections are over. After all, investigation is what many former executives face.

The Parliament, now on summer vacation, needs to make a decision on terminating the activities of the Chair in fifteen days. The President has another fifteen days to consult civil society and select three candidates to be presented to CEC. This means endless public, closed-door and restaurant meetings after which members of the CEC, except the party which gained most votes in the last elections, will select the Chair from the proposed candidates. Georgian Dream participated in 2012 elections as an electoral block (coalition of six political parties) and not a single party which, paradoxically, makes last-year loser United National Movement the party with the most votes in the last elections. This leaves Saakashvili and Coalition Georgian Dream parties to select the Chair of the CEC – possibly, another bright illustration of the cohabitation.

The election campaign so far

Presidential candidates travel around the country meeting the public but the number of attendees is in no nearly as crowded as in the last year.

The presidential power will be cut after the elections amid constitutional amendments and there seems to be high public awareness about the fact that the Prime Minister is now the first man in the country.  There are no new faces among the main candidates, most of which are not very sympathetic towards former government members, each with his/her own marks on reputation. The absence of President Saakashvili in the campaign is enough to make the whole process boring.

Saakashvili’s government heavily pressured the opposition and the public during the last parliamentary election. This, and maybe the prospect of getting rewarded by Ivanishvili after elections, motivated many to come out and confront the system. Abuse of power is not yet a visible problem of this government and this seems to have put the public agitation down.

It is far too early to judge the pre-election situation, but one thing is clear – over the years Georgian elections have been gradually becoming calmer, more democratic and peaceful.

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