International Conference on Local and Regional Development in Europe:Contemporary Challenges

Batumi, Georgia

8-9 July 2010

Speech by Congress Vice-President Günther Krug

Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

Council of Europe

Excellencies, dear ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to thank the Georgian authorities for the opportunity to discuss at this conference topical issues and reform programmes in respect of territorial development and decentralisation in European countries. This is a wonderful initiative from which local and regional elected representatives, parliamentarians and government officials can equally benefit through sharing experience, building of networks and through listening to the presentations of international experts and academics.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are all aware that the citizen’s rights to vote at universal, equal, free, secret and direct elections are the basis of political participation at territorial level. This is enshrined in the preamble to the Additional Protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority and was adopted in November 2009. The Congress practice to observe elections at local and regional level dates already back to the 1990s. Since then, the Council of Europe Congress has carried out almost 100 election observation missions in Europe and, occasionally, beyond.

The observation of elections by the Congress is complementary to the political monitoring process of the European Charter of Local Self-Government which constitutes the cornerstone of local democracy in Europe. In its Statutory Resolution (2007)6, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers defined observation of local and regional elections as one of the priorities of Congress’ action.

Following this logic, the Congress - that is currently undergoing a broad reform process to adapt structures, activities and working methods – has decided to improve the quality of its election observation with the aim to increase the impact of this exercise. A new strategy and rules on the observation of local and regional elections was adopted by the Congress Standing Committee just a couple of weeks ago. The strategy stresses the political dimension of election monitoring, notably the fact that electoral processes are assessed by Congress members on a peer-to-peer basis and it contains guidelines for organising election observation missions and drafting reports, resolutions and recommendations, as well as a code of conduct for the mode of action of Congress observers.

To include as much as possible the whole electoral process in the respective country, the Congress decided that missions to observe local and regional elections shall be preceded by pre-electoral visits. To ensure a better follow-up to the recommendations and resolutions, the Congress decided to put in place a post-observation assistance procedure. This includes the supervision of the implementation of recommendations and resolutions arising from observation reports by relevant Congress bodies, notably the Institutional Committee. If no prgress is achieved after one year, the Congress can decide to request, if applicable, an opinion of the Venice Commission, and to ask the Parliamentary Assembly to consider the issue under the monitoring process. Also, specific co-operation programmes will be developed, together with territorial authorities and governmental bodies, to address major issues that have been raised during the election observation mission. Last not least, the Congress will organise specialised training programmes – for example jointly with the EU Committee of the Regions - for those members who are interested to take actively part in election observation missions.  By these provisions, the Congress underlines its determination to closely co-operate with other Council of Europe bodies and, more generally speaking, with partner organisations and institutions beyond.

Let me now say a few words about the municipal elections of 30 May which were observed by the Congress at the invitation of the Georgian authorities. The 20 strong Congress delegation included local and regional elected representatives from 11 countries. Among our delegation were four members of the EU Committee of the Regions. Prior to the actual election observation mission which was carried out from 26 to 31 May, the Congress organised a pre-election mission beginning of May, to get a picture of the socio-political landscape, the situation of the media, and - more specifically - to assess the organisational preparations for these elections, from the angle of the conditions of local self-government in Georgia.

In respect of our observations, impressions and findings during the pre-electoral phase and on polling day itself, I can say – and I did it already at the press conference which was held together with OSCE/ODIHR after the election day – that the municipal elections of 30 May 2010 have shown that Georgia has made considerable progress in respect of democracy, rule of law and self government.

The election campaign was largely characterised by a competitive atmosphere and lively and substantive debates. For the first time in the country’s history, a televised debate took place between the five mayoral candidates for Tbilisi. The bitter taste remains the fact that paying election commercials on television is extremely expensive. According to media monitoring carried out, amongst others, by OSCE/ODIHR – the two most popular TV channels Rustavi 2 and Imedi TV demonstrated strong support for the ruling party and its Tbilisi mayoral candidate Gigi Ugulava – who finally outpolled his competitors with 55 %.

The elections themselves were prepared against the background of an improved legislation, notably in respect of the General Electoral Law which was last amended in December 2009, after a phase of thorough reform, not least because of the criticism expressed on the occasion of the 2008 elections. Election day was generally well organised and calm.

However, outside and inside polling stations the observers of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities witnessed several incidents, in particular in respect of the complicated and long drawing counting of the votes, doubtful practices of voter mobilisation and security forces presence in some parts of the country.

With regard to the vote counting, the Chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC) himself concluded some days ago, that there were serious problems – and that the performance of Precinct Election Commissions (PECs) actually deteriorated in comparison to the elections of 2008. According to the CEC Chairman, these problems occurred because PEC Secretaries – they were nominated, for the first time, by the opposition – did this job for the first time. Therefore, the counting process took longer than expected, namely three days.

I believe that there is a challenge for future elections: not the appointment of PEC Secretaries by the opposition should be put into doubt – but PEC Secretaries should be properly trained and briefed for election day. There is also room for improvements in respect of voter education and party and campaign financing.

In addition, the fact that more than 50 % of the complaints had to be rejected by the Central Election Commission on formal grounds (e.g. missed deadlines) demonstrates the need for improvement and better information, although much has already been done to increase transparency of the electoral process.

We believe that such technical problems as well as negative atmospheric components could undermine the confidence of the voters in the electoral process and thus put in danger the progress which has been made.

As also in previous elections, this time we again heard accusations by the opposition that pressure was brought to bear on officials or on business operators to vote for candidates of the governing party. The immediate problem here is certainly that of provability. Generally speaking, we perceived a structural deficiency in the danger of the governing party’s being quite universally equated with the power in the state.

An important aspect from the Congress point of view is the involvement of young people and of women in Georgian politics. To give you a concrete example, in one polling station in Gori I observed that the entire precinct commission was made up only of women. At the same time, regrettably enough, most of the candidates were men. I think that we in the Congress have to contribute that much more women will be empowered to play a more active role in Georgian politics in the future. The same applies to the many young people. The involvement of these groups is for us a positive signal for the democratic development of Georgia.

As we are speaking of the future - the municipal councils, the mayors and – more specifically – the directly elected Mayor of Tbilisi have now to further develop democracy and to solve the social and economical problems of the country which are – given a realistic unemployment rate of 30 to 35 % and seeing that 38% of the Georgian population live below the poverty line - serious. From the perspective of locally elected representatives as us, responsible regional stability policies are key in this respect.

Strong and independent municipalities are an important factor for the further democratic development of the country. The elections of 30 May 2010 were an important test for the maturity of the local self-government system in Georgia and, at the same time, for the next ballots at national level, on the programme for 2012 and 2013. We cannot say that Georgia passed this test completely – but is well on the way to doing so!