CG/BUR (11) 40

Strasbourg, 21 September 2004

REPORT ON THE REGIONAL ELECTIONS
IN ADJARA (Georgia)
(20 June 2004)

      Rapporteurs: Joseph BORG (Malta, R, PPE/DC) and Ian MICALEFF (Malta, L, EPP/CD

Document adopted by the Bureau of Congress
on 17 September 2004

A – SUMMARY OF THE REPORT

1. THE CONTEXT
In response to an invitation from the Acting Chairman of the Central Election Commission of Georgia, Mr Dimitri KITOSHVILI, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe sent a 7-member delegation headed by Mr Joseph BORG (Malta), to observe the elections to the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara held on 20 June 2004.

The delegation received the support of the Secretary General's Special Representative in Georgia, Mr Plamen NIKOLOV, and staff members of the Council of Europe Information Office in Georgia. It was also privileged to have the advice of the Venice Commission expert, Mr Bernard OWEN. The delegation would like to thank them for their valuable and efficient assistance.

Georgia joined the Council of Europe on 27 April 1999 and, consequently, committed itself to signing and ratifying the European Charter of Local Self-Government within 3 years of accession. This deadline for ratifying the Charter expired in spring 2002 (the Charter was signed on 29 May 2002, however).

The last local elections in Georgia were held in June 2002 but there is still no new national delegation to the Congress. On 16 December 2002 the Congress Bureau was compelled to suspend the previous Georgian delegation from its work due to the fact that the six-month period allowed to provide information about a new composition of the delegation had expired.

Georgia comprises three autonomous entities, Adjara, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Out of those three only Adjara is fully integrated into the Georgian state and it is the only entity in which the central authorities have full territorial control. Adjara, with a population of some 420 000 inhabitants, has an autonomous status of Republic since 1921. But its status was not defined in the Constitution of Georgia. The amendment added to it in April 2000 stipulated that its status will be determined by a constitutional law. This was only adopted after the elections on 1 July 2004.

The elections were held to fill in 30 seats of the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara.

2. THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN

The nomination of candidates and their registration went generally smoothly, no complaints were reported.

The election campaign was lively and high-key with an extensive coverage in mass media. The election authorities could be commended on some innovative forms of agitation among the electorate.

Major complaints lodged with the Congress observation mission concerned:

· biased coverage and unequal access to mass media
· intervention of the state apparatus in the campaign
· use of public resources for the benefit of the ruling coalition
· lack of the legal framework for the Supreme Council of Adjara
· the Supreme Election Commission's decisions relating to the replacement of Chairs of the District Election Commissions and the setting up of additional polling stations on the eve of the elections.

3. THE VOTE

On the whole, voting was conducted smoothly in an atmosphere of calm. The electoral administrators worked mostly in a professional manner, with some exceptions. The staff in the polling stations, among them a large number of women, performed well, although at some times they had difficulties in starting their work on time and managing the voting process properly.

Among major concerns noted were:

· the inaccuracy of electoral registers
· violations of the secrecy of vote
· non-compliance with established procedures for counting and reconciliation of votes in some polling stations
· an excessive number of voters on many supplementary polling-station registers
· presence of unauthorised persons in the polling stations and their interference in the electoral process
· bus loads of people near some polling stations
· election results were not displayed in many polling stations

4. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The overall impression of the Congress observation mission is that voting was administered quite satisfactory, although the election process fell short of international standards in some regards, notably the fundamental principles of the equality of opportunity for candidates and unbiased media coverage (as set out the Code of good practice) were not always respected.

Among major concerns noted were persistent problems with the voters lists, secrecy of the vote, and compliance with procedures for counting and reconciliation of votes as well as the lack of the legal framework for the Supreme Council of Adjara and misuse of administrative resources.

Congress delegation wishes to stress nevertheless that on the whole the current elections in Adjara marked a significant step forward in terms of transparency and political freedom. This election did really make a difference, especially in comparison with the previous poll in Adjara held on 4 November 2001. This time, the electorate climate was genuinely free and voters had a real choice of candidates coming from different political backgrounds. The election campaign and the media did provide all the parties with the possibility to convey their message to the electorate. And the electorate did make their choice freely. With this in view, the Georgian authorities face a formidable challenge and responsibility with regard to the popular mandate they have got on 20 June 2004.

The delegation makes the following recommendations to the Bureau of the Congress in particular:

· continued monitoring of the situation in the Autonomous Republic of Adjara (bearing in particular the forthcoming examination of the report on local and regional democracy in Georgia by the Autumn Institutional Session in November 2004);
· assessing the Constitutional Law of Georgia on the Status of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara adopted on 1 July 2004, bearing in mind in particular the Venice Commission's recommendations with regard to the separation of competencies between the central government and Adjara authorities;
· taking appropriate measures to establish complete and accurate voters lists
· adopting legal provisions ensuring the establishment of independent and professional election commissions
· enhancing the secrecy of vote through introducing a requirement that voting booths be properly screened and lighted
· providing training for newly elected regional representatives,
· providing assistance in the implementation of the regional legislation and development programmes, in particular within the framework of a Strategy on decentralisation of Georgia to be elaborated by the central government.

The delegation also suggests that this report should be transmitted to the Council for Democratic Elections, in addition to the usual addressees.

B - REPORT

1. INTRODUCTION

Following an invitation from the Acting Chairman of the Central Election Commission of Georgia, Mr Dmitry KITESHVILI, the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities observed the elections to the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara (Georgia) held on 20 June 2004. The Congress delegation included 4 elected members of the Congress, and three members of the Secretariat (see Annex I for a list of delegation members).

The delegation was led by Mr Joseph BORG (R, Malta).

The delegation received the support of the Secretary General's Special Representative in Georgia, Mr Plamen NIKOLOV, and the staff Council of Europe Information Office in Georgia. The delegation was also privileged to have the advice of the Venice Commission's expert, Mr Bernard OWEN. The delegation would like to thank them for their valuable and efficient assistance.

The timetable of the delegation's meetings and work appears in Annex II.

2. THE CONTEXT

a) The Republic of Georgia in the Council of Europe

Georgia joined the Council of Europe on 27 April 1999 and, consequently, committed itself to signing and ratifying the European Charter of Local Self-Government within 3 years of accession. This deadline for ratifying the Charter expired in Spring 2002 (the Charter was signed on 29 May 2002, however).

The last local elections in Georgia were held in June 2002 but there is still no new national delegation to the Congress. On 16 December 2002 the Congress Bureau was compelled to suspend the previous Georgian delegation from its work due to the fact that the six-month period allowed to provide information about a new composition of the delegation had expired.

The situation in Georgia and in Adjara in particular has been the subject of close scrutiny from the Congress over the last few years. In 2001, the Congress delegation observed the regional elections and the elections of the Head of the Autonomous republic of Adjara, and in 2002, local elections. In 2003, The Congress started the monitoring of the implementation of the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government in the country. Following two official visits undertaken by the Rapporteurs in March and September 2003, a monitoring report on the situation of local and regional democracy in Georgia was presented to the Congress Autumn Institutional Session held on 25-26 November 2003. The report drew the attention of the Georgian authorities to a number of serious shortcomings and inadequacies concerning local democracy. Simultaneously, it put forward a number of proposals, in the form of a recommendation, for strengthening local and regional democracy in the country.

Taking into account the major political changes that took place in Georgia just on the eve of the Congress Autumn Session in the aftermath of a “rose revolution” that eventually led to the resignation of President Eduard SHEVARDNADZE , and also the fact that the Georgian delegation was still absent from the sitting, the Congress decided to postpone the adoption of a resolution and a recommendation.

Following the session, the President of the Congress, Dr Van STAA addressed a letter to the Interim President of Georgia, Ms Nino BURDZANADZE, informing her about the Congress' decision. A similar letter by Dr Van Staa was sent to the new President, Mr Mikhail SAAKASHVILI after his election on 4 January 2004.

The new parliamentary elections held on 28 March 2004 brought a landslide victory to the opposition parties that led the November “rose revolution” – the National Movement –United Democrats. The former ruling party disappeared from the political scene of Georgia.

From 2 to 3 March 2004, the Congress rapporteurs paid a third visit to Georgia with a view to updating the monitoring report and presented their conclusions for Congress deliberations in May.

The 11th Plenary Session of the Congress held on 25 – 27 May 2004 in Strasbourg saw a general debate on the situation of local and regional democracy in Georgia, with the participation of the Vice-President of the Parliamentary Committee on Local and Regional Policy, Vano KHUKHUNAISHVILI. In his intervention at the session, the Georgian parliamentarian provided a timeframe for major legislative initiatives to be undertaken by the new parliament in the near future to address the pending issues in this area, which will include, inter alia:

- Ratification of the European Charter in September;
- Elaboration and adoption of a completely new law that will be fully compatible with
basic principles and provisions of the Charter.

Furthermore, Georgian authorities are determined to find solutions, in the space of a year, to the following problems:

1. The territorial organisation of the country;

2. The status of the different tiers of local democracy units, with due regard for socio-economic and historical features;

3. The structure of the management system at local level;

4. The responsibilities of that system, including exclusive and delegated powers, the bases of a local budgetary system and ownership/property issues.

Local and regional reforms seem to be one of the major priorities of the new Georgian authorities. In April, the government set up a state committee on decentralisation, which should prepare a strategy and a programme within the next year and have legislation adopted by autumn 2005.

On top of monitoring the situation of local and regional democracy in the country, the Congress has been closely involved in the practical efforts aimed at facilitating the creation of a National Association of Local and Regional Authorities of Georgia that is called upon to provide a strong and coherent voice to local and regional authorities in the country. This is a major goal of the project that the Congress has been running in the framework of the EU/CE Joint Programme since 2003.

Furthermore, the Association of Local Democracy Agencies (ALDA) has recently come up with an initiative of extending its programme to Georgia that is called upon to help strengthen civil society organisations and local authorities.

b) The Autonomous Republic of Adjara

The current Constitution of Georgia which was adopted on 24 August 1994 does not define the administrative and territorial organisation of the country. It is stipulated that this will occur later, when the country's territorial integrity has been restored (Article 2.3 of the Constitution) and Georgia's jurisdiction has been re-established over the whole of its territory.

Georgia comprises three autonomous entities, Adjara, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Out of those three only Adjara is fully integrated into the Georgian state and it is the only entity in which the central authorities have full territorial control. Adjara, with a population of some 420 000 inhabitants, has an autonomous status of Republic since 1921. But its status was not defined in the Constitution of Georgia. The amendment added to it in April 2000 stipulated that its status will be determined by a constitutional law.

On 8 July 2001, the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara decided to rename itself Parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara. The Chairman of the Supreme Council had since 1991 been Mr. Aslan ABASHIDZE. The decision to rename the Supreme Council was taken without informing the central authorities in Georgia. The same Supreme Council session also introduced the post of Head of the Autonomous Republic. Mr. Abashidze was appointed to this post.

Parliamentary elections and elections for the Head of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara held on 4 November 2001 brought a “landslide” victory to Mr Aslan ABASHIDZE. But given the total dominance of the Revival Union Party in the region, dubbed by independent experts Abashidze's party, and the fact that there was only one candidate for the post it would have been a clear exaggeration to claim that the Autonomous Republic of Adjara enjoyed a pluralistic democracy. Neither were the elections found free and fair by the Congress monitoring mission.

The “rose revolution” received a cold greeting in Batumi. The head of Adjara openly put into question the legality of the Supreme Court's decision to declare the results of the elections non valid. Tough rhetoric on both sides contributed to mounting tension between Batumi and Tbilisi, which flared up into an open crisis on the eve of the re-run of the disputed legislative elections scheduled for 28 March, when, on 14 March, President Saakashvili was denied access to Adjara where he intended to campaign. The Georgian government reacted by imposing economic sanctions on Adjara and tensions mounted significantly.

On 18 March 2004, President of the Congress addressed an open letter to President of Georgia, Mr Mikhail SAAKASHVILI and the Head of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, Mr Aslan ABASHIDZE, calling on both sides to show restrain, avoid use of force and maintain political dialogue in addressing the problems in the relationships between the central administration and regional authorities. “The tension between the centre and its autonomous region is yet more proof of the need for a clear and sound legal framework for the Republic of Adjara, which unambiguously sets out its responsibilities and powers”, underlined the letter. It further stressed the need for ensuring human rights of all citizens, the rule of law and pluralist democracy, in particular their free access to any location of the whole territory of Georgia.

Early May, the crisis was resolved peacefully, with the Georgian government authority having being restored in the Adjara region. The former Head of the Autonomous Republic resigned from his post and left the country. President Saakashvili introduced a direct presidential rule of Adjara; the Adjara Parliament was dissolved and later replaced by an Interim Supreme Council, which, in its turn, decided to hold new election on 20 June.

While Adjara was preparing to elect its new regional legislature, the legal basis for this new election as well for the scope of its competences remained unclear. It was only a very short time before the poll that a new law on the election to the regional body was adopted by the Interim Council, whilst the constitutional law aimed to define the status of Adjara and the scope of its autonomy was still in the Georgian parliament (it was only adopted on 1 July).

c) The legal framework

The legal system of Adjara is determined, in order of priority, by:

    1. the Constitution of Georgia
    2. the Georgian Electoral Code
    3. the Constitutional Law of Georgia on the Status of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara
    4. the Constitution of Adjara
    5. the Law of Adjara on the Election of the Supreme Council of the Adjara Autonomous Republic

The elections were conducted under the two major legal instruments – the Law of Adjara on the Elections of the Supreme Council of the Adjara Autonomous Republic
And the Unified Electoral Code (UEC). The latter was once again amended in August 2003 incorporating a number of recommendations made by the OSCE/ODIHR and the Council of Europe's Venice Commission. These improved registration procedures for candidates and increased transparency in the work of election commissions. On top of that, UEC introduced some additional safeguards against fraud, such as the use of indelible ink to help prevent multiple voting. Thus the UEC together with the Adjara election law provided an adequate framework for the conduct of regional election if implemented impartially and uniformly, although they did not lift all the concerns of opposition parties over the composition of election commissions. Furthermore, a 7- per cent voter threshold, which was also kept for the current elections in Adjara, reduced significantly the chances of smaller parties for their election to the Supreme Council.

Besides, the Constitutional Law on the Status of Adjara, which was not passed, as planned two days before the elections by the Georgian parliament, met with a very controversial response from political establishment. While high-ranking officials from the ruling coalition insisted that the law would help prevent Georgia from disintegrating, there were some coalition MPs who were opposed to it. Opposition parties, in the first place the New Rights, found the draft law absolutely unacceptable and called on the abolition of the autonomy of the region through a referendum because Adjara's autonomy had 'no political, religious or ethnic ground'.

These demands to abolish Adjara's autonomy were condemned by President Saakashvili's administration, who claimed that it would be “a negative signal” for the two breakaway regions - Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

d) The election to the Supreme Council of Adjara

The elections were held to fill in 30 seats in the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, out of which 18 members were elected on the basis of a proportional system and 12 members – in single-mandate constituencies.

e) The election administration

The Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC), based in Batumi, which was established on 26 May 2004, is the body responsible for legislative elections in Adjara. It is composed of 9 members, representing the Interim Council of Adjara and major political parties present in the parliament - the National Movement - Democrats, the Labour and Industrialists Parties. The Central Electoral Commission, based in Tbilisi, has only a consultative role, providing technical assistance to the Supreme Electoral Commission in electoral matter.

Elections were conducted by a three-tier administration: the SEC, 12 District Election Commissions (DEC) and 275 Precinct Election Commissions (PEC). The SEC and other election commissions generally worked in an open and transparent manner. Nevertheless, they were not always independent in their decisions. Some three weeks before the elections all DEC Chairs were replaced by new people brought from Tbilisi. The move was reported to have caused serious tension in the DECs and was interpreted by political opposition as an unequivocal attempt by the ruling coalition to tighten its control over voting results. On the eve of the poll, the SEC took an unprecedented decision to set up 26 additional PECs mainly in mountainous areas, which raised serious concern among opposition political parties over possible electoral manipulations in the upcoming vote. In Kabuleti, the composition of a PEC was reported to have been replaced two days before the election, which is a flagrant violation of current legislation.

It should be noted that handling of complaints, in particular on election day, was not always adequate. Some observers were reported to have been refused to file their complaints about the irregularities with PECs.

3. THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN

a) Nomination and registration of candidates

Candidates of 8 political parties and one bloc stood for the elections to the Supreme Council of Adjara. These included:

1. The Republican Party
2. The New Communist Party
3. Industry Will Save Georgia
4. The Labour Party
5. Victorious Adjara – the National Movement
6. The Communist Party of Georgia
7. Strong Adjara for a United Georgia
8. The Green Party
9. The Merab Kostova Society
10. The Party of Democratic Truth

The nomination of candidates and their registration by the SEC went generally smoothly, no complaints had been reported. On the eve of the poll, however, the Green Party withdrew from the race, without giving any explanation of its decision to the SEC.

The New Rights Party who is represented in parliament declined to take part in the elections on the grounds that the legal framework for the status of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara was not defined. The Party put forward an idea of conducting a plebiscite on this issue and launched a campaign of collecting signatures on the eve of the elections.

b) The Campaign

The election campaign was lively and high-key, with a large number of mass meetings and rallies organised by major contesting parties. The authorities could be commended on some innovative forms of electoral agitation, e.g. cruising cars equipped with loudspeakers calling the electorate to cast their vote.

The campaign got a substantial coverage on main TV channels and in the press. There were many election billboards and posters in the streets of Batumi and of some other towns of Adjara, though not so many as in the capital. The National Movement – Victorious Adjara, however, chose to put a special emphasis on house to house canvassing. Its candidates were reported to have shunned a public debate on TV with the opposition candidates.

Public TV and radio outlets were to provide some free time to the candidates. Each contestant could also make use of a paid broadcast time on public and private TV and the radio. However, the fee was considered too high by most parties. Opposition parties also pointed out that the lack of financial resources for opposition candidates meant that some had been unable to afford political advertisements.

The delegation received a number of complaints from the opposition parties, which referred to the cases of alleged violations of rules on election campaigns by the ruling coalition, such as those contained in the Code of good practice in electoral matters These were as follows:

c) Biased coverage by mass media

It emerged from a number of reports received by the delegation that provisions on election campaigns in the media were not always respected. The media coverage was alleged to have been often biased in favour of the ruling coalition; it often left the public with the impression that no other party but the ruling coalition enjoyed full and unequivocal support of the electorate.

d) State intervention in the election campaign

There was clear indication of the state authorities' intervention in the election campaign. The heavy personal involvement of the President of Georgia himself and the Speaker of Parliament should be noted. On the eve of the elections, President Saakashvili and Speaker Nino Burjanadze made a visit to Batumi and addressed mass rallies in the region, calling the public to vote for the ruling coalition.

e) The use of “administrative resources” in the campaign for the benefit of Candidates of the ruling coalition

This mainly concerned the use of the state apparatus and its staff in the operations reported above.

But there were also reports from the representatives of domestic NGOs and political parties that some time prior to election campaign substantial quantities of flour and fertilisers had been distributed among the population of the region, and during an election campaign the central government had launched a number “5” public bus route in the coastal area at a very low, subsidised, fare rate. Given the fact that this number was nothing more than the number under which the National Movement had been registered in the March legislative elections and which it still retained for the regional poll, the political message was evident to the public at large and contesting parties in particular. This clearly contradicts to Article 76 of the UEC, which prohibits the use of the “material and technical resources of those organisations that are being funded from the State budget of Georgia, for election agitation and campaign”.

f) Overall conclusions on the election campaign

The delegation considers that the election campaign in Adjara was clearly a step forward in terms of transparency and the freedom of the expression of political views, especially in comparison with the previous 4 November 2001 regional elections and the elections of the Head of the Adjara Autonomous Republic. Nevertheless, it fell short in some regards of the accepted democratic standards, notably the fundamental principles of the equality of opportunity for candidates and unbiased media coverage (as set out the Code of good practice) was not always respected. Furthermore, the lack of clear separation between the state administration and political parties structures provided the opportunities for misuse of state administrative resources.

4. POLLING DAY

The Congress teams of observers visited some 60 polling stations in Batumi, Kobuleti, Khelvachauri, Keda and Shuakhvi districts. The Congress monitoring mission used a “yes” and “no” graded and open remarks questionnaire drawn up by the expert of the Venice Commission's Council for Democratic Elections, Mr Bernard OWEN.

Polling stations were open for voting from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., although a number of them had difficulties to start on time. At one of the polling stations in Kabuleti, voting was delayed for more than an hour due to the fact the PEC had received wrong ballot papers and it had to wait for the right ones to be delivered by the DEC. It turned out that they were not sufficient in number, but the PEC had to do with that quantity, with some assurances given by a DEC's representative that additional copies would be brought later.

The Congress mission's main conclusions with respect to polling day are set out below.

The positive aspects

· On the whole, voting was conducted smoothly, the atmosphere was calm and peaceful, and only minor incidents were reported;
· Polling stations were in the main well-organised, all electoral committee members present and generally well-informed about tasks and procedures.
· A large number of observers from different parties and representatives of different candidates were present in all polling stations visited.
· The observers did not report any flagrant irregularities in the way the vote took place or any obvious pressure on voters, with some exceptions.
· The electoral administrators worked mostly in a satisfactory professional manner.
· Most of the procedure was followed correctly.

The problems

a) Voters lists

Strictly speaking, there were no electoral registers in the true sense of the word. The lists that were published with the CEC's assistance had been established on the basis of the voluntary pre-registration of the electorate in their constituencies. All in all, some 120 000 voters had been entered on those lists. However, the expected number of potential voters were estimated at least at 200 000, i.e. twice as much.

Citizens not enrolled on the electoral register were able to enrol on “supplementary” electoral registers compiled by the PECs upon presentation of documents proving his/her place of residence. This is on the whole favourable to voters who are thus able to exercise their right to vote even where an error has been made in the electoral register.

However, the number of people enrolled on such lists practically in all polling stations was far too high, in most cases accounting for more than 50 % of voters.

It should be admitted nevertheless that members of precinct committees strictly checked the identity of a voter and his or her place of residence before adding his or her name to the electoral register. On top of it, each voter was inked. Nevertheless, the delegation observed a number of cases when voters were not requested to show their ID or sign the register and were allowed to cast their vote in the long run. Furthermore, the delegation received reports from domestic observers of a number of cases of multiple voting, which was stopped following their protests. This happened because voters were not checked for traces of ink prior to voting.

b) Secrecy of the ballot

The voting procedure as provided for in Georgian legislation includes the ballot paper being stamped to “validate” it once the voter has made his or her choice. The voter is offered thereafter an envelope in which he or she has to put the ballot paper before dropping it in a ballot box.

The delegation noted that in many cases this procedure enabled either the member of the electoral committee responsible for stamping the paper or one of the observers or representatives of candidates to see how people had voted. Furthermore, the member of the precinct election commission very often folded a ballot paper and put it in an envelope him/herself instead of a voter. This practice combined with the poor-quality paper used to produce the ballot papers reduced significantly the secrecy of the vote.

c) Presence of unauthorised persons

Cases of the presence of unauthorised persons were observed in a number of polling stations, in one instance police were present in the premises. In Kabuleti, the delegation observed cases of interference by the representatives of the National Movement in the PEC's work

The Congress delegation noted that the presence of a large number of domestic observers was in itself a positive signal for the participation of citizens in the democratic process. However, in many polling stations the presence of large numbers of observers and candidates' proxies led to confusion that made their work more difficult.

d) Polling stations

On the whole, no signs of political pressure were observed, apart from a small number of cases of the National Movement campaign posters being displayed in the outside premises or bus-loads of people near some polling stations.

Voting conditions in many polling stations were inadequate; in a number of cases rooms for voting were far too small. Some of them were situated on the first floor the access to which put considerable constraints on older and handicapped people. Some polling stations were situated in the same premises where the National Movement local branches had their headquarters.

In one polling station, the work of the PEC was made difficult by power cut, which seemed to have resulted owning to the interference of an unauthorised person. In many polling stations, voting booths were poorly lighted or not at all. That forced voters, particularly advanced in age, to raise the curtain.

Very often, PEC declarations were displayed in the corners difficult to access, lacking the required data, signatures of some members, dates or a stamp.

e) The count

The count generally took place without incident, but was very slow in many polling stations. One of the polling stations closed at 8 p.m., but it took the commission almost two hours to finalise the preliminary procedures before a ballot box was opened. Some precinct election commissions failed to follow an established procedure for counting and reconciliation of votes.

It should be noted, however, that the procedure is rather long. The requirement that all unused ballot papers be cancelled by stamping them is a tiresome operation (there is only one cancellation stamp) the usefulness of which is open to question.

The delegation observed some cases of the presence of unauthorised persons during counting, such persons, usually representing the ruling coalition, were interfering in the process.

f) Declaration of results

On the whole, the elections to the Supreme Council of Adjara were declared by the SEC valid. According to the SEC, the Victorious Adjara won 28 seats in the Council, while its opponent – the Republican Party gained only 2 seats.

It should be noted, however, that in some polling stations, election results were not displayed publicly that made difficult for observers to aggregate the results in the districts.

5. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

a) Conclusions

The overall impression of the Congress observation mission is that voting was administered quite satisfactory, although election process fell short of international standards in some regards. The Congress mission observed a number of shortcomings and irregularities relating in particular to the accuracy of electoral registers, secrecy of the vote, and compliance with established procedures for counting and reconciliation of votes.

The Congress delegation received a number of complaints relating to the misuse of administrative resources and biased media coverage. The delegation regrets the fact that the election campaign, although on the whole very lively and high-key, was not always conducted neutrally and impartially as required by democratic standards (in particular, the Code of good practice in electoral matters).

The election authorities should be commended nevertheless on some innovative methods of election campaign aimed at encouraging the electorate to cast their vote. Election commissions also worked in a commendable professional manner, although some polling stations experienced difficulties in managing the voting process properly at some times.

Congress delegation wishes to stress that on the whole the current elections in Adjara marked a significant step forward in terms of transparency and political freedom. This election did really make a difference, especially in comparison with the previous poll in Adjara held on 4 November 2001. This time, the electorate climate was genuinely free and voters had a real choice of candidates coming from different political backgrounds. The election campaign and the media did provide all the parties with the possibility to convey their message to the electorate. And the electorate did make their choice freely. With this in view, the Georgian authorities face a formidable challenge and responsibility with regard to the popular mandate they have got on 20 June 2004.

b) Recommendations

On the basis of these observations, the delegation suggests the following lines of action to the Bureau:

1 – Closely following the development of regional democracy in Adjara.
Taking into account the fact that the forthcoming Institutional Session of the Congress will examine the report on local and regional democracy in Georgia, the delegation wishes the Congress to continue to follow the situation in this area in the months to come.

2 – Proposing assessment of the Constitutional Law of Georgia on the Status of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara adopted on 1 July 2004.
The delegation points to the important recommendations made by the experts of the Venice Commission with regard to the separation of competences between the central and regional authorities and the scope of autonomy of the region as set out in the draft law. These recommendations have not been taken into account by the Georgian government.

The assessment of the adopted law could prove especially useful at a stage when the Georgian government is starting to work on a Strategy on decentralisation of Georgia

3– Establishing complete and accurate voters lists
The inaccuracy of the voters lists has been a recurrent problem during the past local and legislative elections. And although the UEC contains adequate provisions for compiling voters lists and provided for the establishment of a centralised national voter register, they could not be realised in Adjara due to time constraints.

4 - Enhancing the secrecy of vote
This can be achieved first of all through a strict application of the respective UEC's provisions, but also by introducing a requirement that voting booths be properly screened and lighted. It is important that marked ballots be not handled by PEC members before being deposited in a ballot box.

5- Ensuring provisions for independent and professional election commissions
These can include professional certification of election commissions members and renouncing party membership, apart from professional training. It is also crucial to provide for a clear separation of the respective roles, responsibilities and functioning of election administration, on the one hand, and the political party structures, on the other.

6- Proposing training for newly elected regional representatives.
In view of the new members being elected to the Supreme Council of Adjara, the delegation suggests that training for newly elected representatives should speedily be provided, in particular to make them aware of the general framework of their mission and the general principles of the Charter on Local Self-Government as well as the fundamentals of regional planning and development. Such action could be well assisted by the Congress' European Network of Training Organisations for Local and Regional Authorities (ENTO), which possesses a wealth of expertise in this field.

Such actions might, for example, be developed in co-operation with donor organisations.

7 - Raising awareness about local and regional democracy, generating consensus about decentralisation and developing co-operation between different stakeholders.
There is still a marked “old” mentality whereby the centre gives orders and the local people obey. Local people (and many officials) do not really understand what local and regional self-government means. Awareness-building must be an important element of the national government's actions as well as the Council of Europe's assistance programmes. Bearing in mind the aforementioned Strategy on decentralisation of Georgia, this could help local and regional stakeholders link their activities aimed to develop legislation and capacity building into a coherent and comprehensive reform process, thus ensuring overall co-ordination of the efforts of various actors and creating new synergies.

8 - Developing good leadership and enhancing the capabilities of regional and local politicians and staff. This is bound to become a very important issue for Adjara Supreme Council, as local and district government officials have poor professional qualifications and fail to provide services at the appropriate level.

9– Disseminating the conclusions of this report.
In view of the importance of its observations and conclusions, the delegation suggests that the Bureau should disseminate this report widely with a view to drawing the attention of Georgian authorities to the issues that need to be addressed in Adjara in the near future.

The report might be distributed:

· to Council of Europe bodies: Committee of Ministers, Secretary General, Parliamentary Assembly, the Venice Commission Council for Democratic Elections.
· More widely by publication on the Congress website and the distribution of information (press release), announcing these conclusions and sending it in particular to the Georgian media (especially press agencies).

C – ANNEXES

Annex I

CONGRESS OBSERVATION MISSION FOR ELECTIONS
OF SUPREME COUNCIL OF ADJARA (GEORGIA)
from 17 to 21 June 2004

CLRAE Members:

    1. Mr Joseph BORG, R (Malta)

      Councillor of Mellieha
      Tel.: 356 21 44 64 28

Fax: 356 21 44 64 27
E-mail: meljb@di-ve.com; lca@lca.org.mt

    2. Dr Ian MICALLEF, L (Malta)
    Vice-President of the Congress
    Councillor of Gzira
    President, Local Councils Association of Malta
    153 Main Street
    BZNO6-BALZAN, Malta
    Fax: 356 21 44 64 27

Tel.: 356 99 47 01 91
E-mail: ian.micallef@maltafreeport.com.mt ; lca@lca.org.mt

    3. Mr Emin YERITSYAN, L (Armenia)
    Councillor, village of Parakar
    30 Nairy Str. Marz Armavir
    Fax: 374 1 575 219
    Tel.: 374 1 574 501
    E-mail: info@caa.am

    4. Mr Bernard SUAUD, R (France)
    Conseiller régional

Tel. 33 2 51 3733 66 Fax 33 2 51 36 27 95
Mobile: 33 6 14 47 00 89 mb
E-mail: bernard.suaud@wanadoo.fr mailto:sekretariat@ipn.gov.pl

Congress Secretariat


    5. Mr Vyacheslav TOLKOVANOV

      Congress Secretariat
      Tel : 33 3 90 21 47 47
      Mobile: 33 3 6 64 40 48 98

    7. Ivan VOLODIN

    8. Mr Gaël MARTIN-MICALLEF
    Venice Commission Secretariat, Division of Elections and Referendums
    Tel.: 33 3 88 41 39 29
    Fax: 33 3 88 41 37 38
    E-mail: gael.martin-macallef@coe.int

Contacts in Georgia :

      Ms Natia JAPARIDZE
      Director, Council of Europe Information Office
      Ms Tamara KITA
      7 Ereke 11 Lane
      380005 TBILISI
      Tel.: 995 32 989 560

      Fax: 995 32 989 657

      E-mail : natia.japaridze@coe.ge

      Ms Tamara KATSITADZE
      E-mail: tamara.katsitadze@coe.ge

      Mr Plamen NIKOLOV

      Special Representative of the Council of Europe

      Secretary General in Georgia
      Same address
      Tel.: 995 32 989 560
      Fax: 995 32 989 657
      E-mail : plamen.nikolov@coe.ge

      Hotel in Tbilisi: Beau Monde.
      Address:
      Al.Chavchavadze Str., 11
      Tel: 99532 - 921510, 986003
      Fax: 995 32- 99 62 46

      Hotel in Batumi : MERCURY
      Address:
      10/12 Chavchavadze Street
      Tel: (995 88 222)  3 14 01/02/03
      Mobile: (995 93) 32 96 77 (English speaking)

 

Annex II

Congress Monitoring Mission for the Regional Elections
in Adjara Autonomous Republic (Georgia )

Preliminary Draft Programme
(16 – 21 June 2004)

Wednesday, 16 June

- Arrival of members and checking in at the Hotel

      Beau Monde
      (According to individual flights schedule)

Thursday, 17 June

10:00 - Meeting with the Acting Chairman of the Central Electoral
Commission of Georgia, Mr Zurab Nonikashvili (accreditation of the

      delegation)

12:30 - Meeting with the State Minister, Mr Zurab Melikishvili

15:00 - Meeting with the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee of
Regional Policies and Local Self-Government , Mr Vano
Khukhunaishvili

16:30 - Meeting with the opposition parliamentary faction

17:30 - Meeting with the Special Representative of the Secretary General,

      Mr Plamen Nikolov

Friday, 18 June

Departure for Batumi (Caucasus Airlines NS 309 at 11:40 arrival in Batumi - 12:30)

16:30 - Meeting with the Chairman of the Supreme Election Commission of
Adjara, Mr Irakly Pagava

18:00 - Meeting with the CE expert, Mr David Owen and international Observers

Saturday, 19 June

9:30 - Meeting with the Chairpersons of Batumi District Election Commissions

10.30 - Meeting with the representatives of the political parties contesting the regional elections

        a. The National Movement – United Democrats
        b. The Republican Parties

12:00 - Meeting with the representatives of the Labour Party and
Industrialists
14:00 - Briefing for observers organised by OSCE/ ODHIR
15.00 - Meeting with the representatives of NGOs (local government
associations, civil society groups, etc.)

16.30 - Meeting with the domestic observers

17.30 - Visits to polling stations and meetings with Precinct Election Commissions

Sunday 20 June

Observation of elections (in accordance with a deployment plan)

7.30 - Deployment of teams of observers.
12.00 - Visits to polling stations and observation of the count.

Monday, 21 June

12:00 - Press conference (to be confirmed)

15:30 - Departure for Tbilisi (Caucasus Airlines NS 308 at 16:30 arrival in Tbilisi 17:20)

17:20 - Arrival in Tbilisi and checking in at the Hotel Beau Monde

Tuesday, 22 June

3:30 - Departure for the airport


CONGRESS OF LOCAL AND REGIONAL AUTHORITIES

CONGRES DES POUVOIRS LOCAUX ET REGIONAUX

Annex III

Batumi 21 June 2004

“Voting went smoothly, although the electoral process fell short of international standards in some regards. Our major concerns were the accuracy of the voters list and the secrecy of the ballot”, stated Mr Joseph Borg, Head of the delegation of the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities following observation of the Election of the Supreme Council of Adjara held on 20 June 2004.

The current election is clearly a considerable improvement over the previous one held in Adjara in 2001, and represents an important step forward towards a regional democracy. This still has to be complemented by adequate legislative provisions that would ensure genuine local and regional self government in the autonomous Republic.

The electoral climate was quite free and for the first time the voters were provided with a real choice of candidates coming from different political parties and blocs. The organisers should be commended on innovative forms of electoral campaign that was aimed at encouraging the people to cast their vote during this election. Voters got the opportunity of getting acquainted with the programmes of the candidates, which received a good coverage even prior to the Election Day, particularly through discussion programmes which were broadcasted and for which all political parties were invited to participate.

Nevertheless the Congress delegation got the impression that the campaign was dominated by the party in power.

On Election Day, the delegation visited some 60 polling stations in Batumi, Kobuleti, Khelvachauri, Keda, and Shuakhevi regions. The voting took place in a calm and peaceful atmosphere and only some minor incidents were reported. The delegation has also noted that in some areas voters were transported to the polling stations by buses organised by some political parties. This may have induced pressure on the voters.

Election administration worked in a satisfactory manner although some polling stations had difficulties in commencing on the scheduled time and some were not capable to manage the process properly at some times. Most of the procedure was followed correctly with some exceptions, e.g. in some polling stations, members of the election commissions were putting themselves ballot papers in an envelope rather than the voter; the number of ballot papers distributed to each polling station was on a discretionary basis rather than related to the number of pre-registered voters; some polling stations registered voters without requesting them to sign the receipt of the ballot paper in the same manner as pre-registered voters were requested to; in another polling station, some ballot papers were distributed to voters who had not produced an Identity Card or other means of identification.

The delegation noted also that during the reconciliation and counting of votes cast in some polling stations monitored, the Commission failed to follow an established procedure

The delegation is of the opinion that all persons connected with the electoral process, namely but not limited only to members of the Commissions, need to be better trained in relation to the electoral procedures and legal requirements of the country.

The delegation was composed of the following members:

Joseph Borg (Malta)
Ian Micallef (Malta)
Emin Yeritsyan (Armenia)
Bernard Suaud (France)

Gael Martin Micallef
Vyacheslav Tolkovanov
Ivan Volodine



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