Georgia: Reform for elections, political associations and parliament rules should be “reconsidered”, according to Venice Commission
Strasbourg, 24.03.2021 – In a joint opinion, requested in December 2020 by the Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia and adopted at the latest plenary of the Venice Commission (19-20 March 2021), the OSCE/ODIHR and the Venice Commission call on Georgia to reconsider several amendments to the Election Code, the Law on Political Associations of Citizens and the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament of Georgia.
With regard to the Election Code, proposed changes would infringe the rights of political parties to equal opportunities by denying them free airtime if they do not receive public funding. The denial of free airtime to those parties is both “disproportionate and unfounded”, as it is exactly these parties with less funds at their disposal that would need access to free airtime in order to voice their opinions and present their programmes to the electorate, according to the opinion.
Furthermore, not only is there no evident connection between allocating free airtime and receiving state funding that would justify such a step, but also such a restriction is not in the public interest, as it would reduce access to information that the public needs in order to make an informed choice in elections.
The Venice Commission also is concerned by proposed amendments to the Law on Political Associations of Citizens that would deny state funding to a political party or electoral bloc that did not take up at least half of the parliamentary mandates that it won, and would deprive the party or bloc of state funding for the next six months, if half of the members of parliament of any party or bloc did not attend without good reason more than half of the regular plenary sittings.
Sanctioning political parties – and not individual MPs – by depriving them of funding, if the respective MPs do not attend most sittings during a parliamentary session, appears “disproportionate” and at odds with the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, which already regulate such matters in a clear and balanced manner, according to the opinion.
Similar considerations apply to the proposed amendment to the Rules of Procedure of Parliament, which would result in the full deduction of the salary of an MP who does not attend without good reason all plenary sittings during a calendar month of the regular session, both for the period of the parliamentary session and for the ensuing recess period. This latter proposal also likely would not be compliant with the Constitution of Georgia, which makes salaries for Members of Parliament mandatory.
The opinion proposes considering “more proportionate and appropriate means” to achieve the goal of the amendments, which could involve imposing direct consequences on individual MPs for their actions. This would be more in line with the Georgian Constitution and international standards, the Venice Commission notes. “Such broad sanctions against parties not taking part in the Parliament’s work were not found in any other Venice Commission or OSCE/ODIHR member/participant states,” the opinion reads.
In a separate joint opinion, also requested last December by the Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia, the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR call on Georgia to reconsider adopting a proposed new provision – Article 791 – to the country’s electoral code, as related to the participation by an alien acting as party leader in pre-election campaigning. Adopting this amendment could lead to an unduly restriction of political pluralism, the Venice Commission warns, listing several concerns.
The proposed amendment does not clearly define which criteria would be used to determine who is considered to be an electoral list’s or party’s political leader. Besides, while the right to vote and stand for election may be subject to some conditions, including the respective individual’s nationality, restrictions of aliens to participate in domestic political life should be limited to the establishment of political parties, but not to their membership. Furthermore, the sanction of deregistering a party list due to the foreign nationality of a person acting as its political leader seems a disproportionate measure that targets the party rather than the alien in question.
The appeals process regarding such deregistration as defined by the proposed amendment is "worrying" because deregistration of a party or electoral block can be made up to two days after elections: a decision may be taken after votes have been cast and voters might in good faith vote for a party which may then end up being deregistered.
Finally, the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR believe that the amendment could be perceived, in the strict sense, as ad hominem legislation, i.e. directed against a particular individual, a legislative technique previously criticized by the Venice Commission.
The opinions were prepared under the Quick response Mechanism in the framework of the EU/CoE joint programme Partnership for Good Governance”, co-funded by the Council of Europe and the European Union and implemented by the Council of Europe.
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