Strasbourg, 4 January 1999
Report on the situation of local and regional democracy in Georgia
Bureau of the Congress (Strasbourg, 21 December 1998)
Rapporteurs: Michel Guégan (France, L) and Gabor Kolumban (Romania, R)
1. On 29 September 1998 the Bureau of the Congress decided to prepare a report on the situation regarding local and regional democracy in Georgia for the purpose of considering Georgia's application to become a full member of the Council of Europe. The Bureau appointed two rapporteurs - Mr Michel Guégan, Mayor of La Chapelle-Caro (France), representing the Chamber of Local Authorities, and Mr Gabor Kolumban, Chairman of Harghita County Council (Romania), representing the Chamber of Regions - to draw up a draft report with a view to its adoption at the Bureau's meeting on 21 December 1998.
2. The rapporteurs went twice to Georgia for meetings with Parliamentarians, representatives of the Administration of the President of Georgia and the Central Electoral Commission. The first visit took place from 19 to 24 October 1998, and the second, coinciding with the local elections in Georgia, from 11 to 17 November 1998. One of the rapporteurs, Mr Kolumban, also participated, in his capacity as member of the Congress, in a conference on the principles of local and regional self-government in Europe, organised by the CLRAE in conjunction with the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Adjaria from 22 to 23 October 1998 (the programme of this conference appears in Appendix II). Mr Kolumban met the President of Georgia, Mr Eduard Shevardnadze, on Monday 16 November. The President of the Congress, Mr Alain Chénard, met on 2 November 1998 with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia, Mr Irakly Menagarichvili, in order to discuss matters related to local and regional democracy in Georgia.
3. A delegation of the Congress, whose members are listed in Appendix IV hereto, observed the local elections on 15 November 1998.
4. During their visits the rapporteurs were accompanied by an independent expert, Mrs Laura Iker, an assistant of the Minister of State in the Belgian Federal Parliament, whom the rapporteurs wish to thank for her help in drafting this report.
5. The programmes of the rapporteurs' visits as well as the names of the persons they met are to be found in Appendices I and III hereto. The rapporteurs wish to thank all those in the Georgian Parliament, the Administration of the President, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the OSCE Mission and the regions who received the rapporteurs and devoted their time to discussing with them the various problems connected with local and regional democracy in Georgia.
6. The rapporteurs are also grateful to the representatives of Georgian and international non-governmental organisations whom they met during their visits for their observations on the situation regarding local and regional democracy in Georgia.
7. Furthermore, the rapporteurs wish to emphasise that relations between the CLRAE and the Georgian authorities date from 1997, when two members of the Congress, Mr Henry Frendo and Mr Claude Casagrande, took part as experts in a conference on local government held from 14 to 16 July 1997 by the LODE programme and the CLRAE in conjunction with the Georgian Parliament's Committee on Local Self-Government and Regional Policy and the Administration of the President of Georgia. Parallel to this conference, Mr Frendo and Mr Casagrande took part in a series of meetings in the Parliament of Georgia and the Administration of the President. Details of the programme of these meetings appear in Appendix V hereto. Since then, as part of the LODE programme, Council of Europe experts have helped the Georgian Parliament to draw up the three laws currently regulating local self-government in Georgia, namely the institutional law on local self-government and administration, the law on elections to representative organs of local self-government and government assemblies, and the law on the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi.
1. BRIEF OUTLINE OF THE POLITICAL SITUATION IN GEORGIA SINCE 1991
8. The Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia proclaimed the restoration of the country's independence on 9 April 1991. In the same month the Bureau of the President of the Republic was introduced. The President of the Supreme Council, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was appointed President of Georgia by the Supreme Council.
9. Towards the end of 1991, dissension between the government and the opposition led to the outbreak of a veritable civil war which continued up to the end of 1993. In early January 1992 a military council seized power by means of a coup d'etat. It declared itself in favour of democracy and promised to organise elections in the near future. In March 1992 the present Georgian President, Eduard Shevardnadze, was invited to Georgia by the military council. The same year the military council was replaced by the Presidium of the Council of State, presided over by Mr Shevardnadze. In late 1992 powers were transferred to the newly elected Parliament (Parliamentary elections of 11 October 1992).
10. On 24 August 1994 a new constitution which restored the office of President was adopted. In the presidential elections in the same year, Mr Shevardnadze, who received more than 74.3% of the votes, came well ahead of the five other candidates. In November 1995 Parliamentary elections were held, resulting in the victory of the Union of Citizens of Georgia (a party led by Mr E Shevardnadze).
11. The Georgian constitution recognises the traditional division of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
12. In September 1998, in agreement with the Ministry of Justice, 79 political parties were registered in Georgia. To be registered, a political party must, amongst other things, have one deputy or 50,000 electors' signatures.
13. The elections of 15 November 1998 were contested by 13 political parties or blocs.
2. THE ADMINISTRATIVE AND TERRITORIAL ORGANISATION OF THE COUNTRY
2.1. General points
14. After acquiring independence, Georgia underwent a period of intensive centralisation. This had two main effects on the leaders' behaviour:
On the one hand, they were anxious to consolidate power and control resources in order to remedy the consequences of the civil war that occurred in the country in the early 1990s;
On the other hand, they were afraid of decentralisation resulting in the disintegration of the country.
15. These two attitudes became clearly apparent in the course of our conversations. According to the President of Georgia, the government cannot initiate a genuine policy of decentralisation until the country's territorial integrity has been restored. With regard to the holding of local elections, this may be one of the reasons why not all mayors are elected and why the mayors of major cities and the presidents of districts are appointed by central government (see below).
2.2. Regions, districts and municipalities
16. The territory of Georgia is defined by the constitution within its frontiers as of 21 December 1991, ie with the inclusion of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia and the former Autonomous District of South Ossetia. However, the contstitution 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. During their talks with the Georgian political representatives, the rapporteurs were able to gauge how important the restoration of the country's territorial integrity is for the whole political class.
17. One of the major problems hindering the process of defining the country's territorial division is the fact that the country's sovereignty is disputed: separatism prevails in Abkhazia, while South Ossetia has demanded its attachment to North Ossetia, which is part of the Russian Federation.
18. In pursuance of a presidential decree, Georgia comprises 12 regions (including two autonomous republics - Abkhazia and Adjaria - and the capital, Tbilisi), 76 districts (some of which are in the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and 1,100 municipalities.
19. The frontiers between regions as defined at present correspond to the historical borders between various parts of Georgia. In nine regions, ie in all regions except Abkhazia, Adjaria and Tbilisi, the regional administration is led by a governor, who was appointed by the President but whose appointment has not been endorsed by Parliament. The regions have no clear legal status. The introduction of a regional level in the administrative division of the territory is, together with the holding of local elections, the most significant development that has occurred in the Georgian system of local self-government. The rapporteurs have the feeling that the President's representatives have become firmly established in the regions. In January 1996, regional budgets and arrangements concerning the President's representatives in the regions were adopted, and regional funds set up.
20. March 1997 marked the first stage in the negotiations initiated in Moscow between Georgia and the "self-proclaimed republic" of South Ossetia. In June 1997, negotiations with the "autonomous republic" of Abkhazia, a de facto secessionist territory, were initiated.
21. The difficulties connected with defining the powers of autonomies and regions are affecting the country's political development. Relations with Adjaria, an autonomous republic, are still characterised by mutual mistrust. In practice, the central authority of Tbilisi seems to have little actual influence in Adjaria. It is significant that the President of Adjaria never goes to Tbilisi, even though he was elected a deputy in the Georgian Parliament.
3. OUTLINE OF LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT IN GEORGIA
3.1. The background
22. The question of local self-government was considered back at the time of Georgia's brief period of independence between 1918 and 1921. Local self-government was embodied in the 1921 constitution, and in 1919 the members of organs of local self-government were elected. However, between its annexation by Russia in 1921 and the restoration of independence in 1991, Georgia was virtually deprived of local self-government structures, as indeed the other former Soviet republics.
23. The laws on local self-government and administration, local elections and the capital, Tbilisi, have been adopted. They constitute a corpus of legislation regulating local self-government in Georgia.
24. It is noteworthy that the first local elections were held in 1991 within two months from the proclamation of the country's independence by the Supreme Council. Although the terms of office of the organs elected in 1991 expired in 1994, the following local elections were not held until 15 November 1998. During our talks on 20 and 21 October 1998 with Parliamentarians, the latter explained that local self-government had not been established as such in Georgia because the organs elected in 1991 had been prevented from functioning by the vicissitudes of political life. They added that democracy would not be implemented until powers had been redistributed towards the local level.
3.2. The legal framework of local self-government
3.2.1. The constitution
25. The 1995 constitution of Georgia deals with local self-government in its Article 2.41
3.2.2. The laws adopted
26. The rapporteurs were informed by the representatives of the Georgian Parliament's Committee on Local Self-Government and Regional Policy of the legislative reforms under way as well as of the substance of the laws forming the legal framework of local self-government which had been adopted by Parliament in the past two years. The rapporteurs noted the thoroughness with which the draft laws were being prepared and discussed. They also observed that the rights of local authorities were regarded as forming part of the legislative machinery aimed at stabilising the situation in Georgia. They further noted that the European Charter of Local Self-Government was well known among the circles concerned in Georgia.
27. At present, five texts regulate local self-government:
- the institutional law on local self-government and administration (hereinafter: the institutional law), a reference text the initial draft of which, prepared by the Ministry of Justice, was strongly criticised by the opposition and then amended and adopted by Parliament. According to the opposition, however, the text still contains provisions incompatible with the principles laid down in the European Charter of Local Self-Government;
- the law on elections to representative organs of local self-government and government assemblies (hereinafter: the law on local elections);
- the law on the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi;
(The LODE programme experts assisted in the drawing up of the above-mentioned draft law.)
- the law on the status of municipal councillors (rights and duties of councillors);
- the taxation code, which governs budgetary relations between the state and local authorities.
28. The institutional law, together with the law on local elections, constitutes the hard core of legislation on local self-government and lays the foundations for the functioning of the first organs elected at municipality and district level.
3.2.3. Laws in preparation
29. The rapporteurs were informed by the representatives of the Administration of the President as well as by members of the Committee on Local Self-Government and Regional Policy that, once the local elections had taken place, it was planned to draw up laws on the following subjects:
- the status of municipal administrators,
- local finances (the aim would be not to determine the rate of taxation but to lay down the taxation framework within which taxes could be levied),
- the responsibilities of elected representatives,
- the assets of local authorities,
- agricultural land (which is to be privatised),
- non-agricultural land,
- the transfer of the state's powers to local authorities,
- the status of electors,
- the legal protection of local self-government,
- town planning (the rapporteurs noted that Georgian Parliamentarians drew on the principles of the European Urban Charter in the course of their work).
30. The Georgian authorities will enjoy the assistance of the LODE programme in their work on the draft laws on local finances and the status of municipal administrators.
31. According to Mr Bolkvadze, Mr Andriadze and Mr Khatidze, the foundations for local self-government were laid in 1998, notably:
division of budgetary responsibilities between central government and local authorities;
numerous legislative instruments providing a framework for the regulation of local self-government.
32. Judging by the remarks made by the governmental and Parliamentary representatives, after the elections budgetary and other responsibilities should automatically be transferred to local authorities. This is a dynamic process that cannot be implemented over a short peroid. Legislation on local self-government will be improved in the years to come along the lines of enlargement of local authorities. However, the opposition, while welcoming the efforts made to lay the foundations for local self-government, is still critical of the slowness and timidity with which the reform is being pursued. It is especially critical of the principle of mayors of big cities being appointed by the President.
3.2.4 Exercise of local self-government and election of representative organs
33. The last level of territorial authority comprises towns and small villages, grouped together in municipal administrative units.
34. Under Article 4 of the institutional law on local self-government and administration, local self-government applies to the two lower levels of territorial organisation, ie districts and municipal administrative units. Only the elected councils of towns, villages and other municipal units have a right to elect organs answerable to them.
35. The executive organs of the councils of districts and major cities not administratively dependent on districts are formed according to a separate procedure. In districts and the cities of Tbilisi, Batumi, Rustavi, Sukhumi, Poti, Kutaissi and Tskhinvali, which come directly under central government (hereinafter: major cities), the heads of executive organs are not elected but appointed and dismissed by the President of Georgia (Articles 10.4a and 11.4a of the institutional law). Under Article 3.2 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which defines the concept of local self-government, local self-government must be exercised by councils or assemblies composed of members freely elected by secret ballot and able to possess executive organs responsible to them. Under Articles 10.5 and 11.5 of the institutional law, however the powers, structure and functioning of executive organs of districts and the above-mentioned cities are approved by the President of Georgia, not by the council. Consequently, only the smallest territorial entities, ie municipal administrative units, fully match the definition of local self-government.
36. The only exception to this rule is Adjaria. The rapporteurs were informed during their talks with Mr Abashidze that the Supreme Council of the Republic had voted an amendment to the Adjarian constitution whereby the mayor of Batumi is elected by the municipal councillors.
37. The conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia constitute a major obstacle to the implementation of local self-government in the whole country: these parts of Georgia are temporarily excluded from the scope of the reform. Under Article 36 of the law on local elections, the first elections of members of assemblies will not be held in the territories of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia and the former Autonomous District of South Ossetia, which are not, in practice, subject to the jurisdiction of Georgia's supreme state organs.
3.2.5 Division of powers between the state and local authorities
38. One of the main principles of local self-government is a clear division of powers between the state and local authorities. Under Article 4.4 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, powers given to local authorities shall normally be full and exclusive. In the rapporteurs' opinion, the provisions of the institutional law and of the law on the capital of Georgia fail to distribute tasks clearly. In the former law, the distribution of tasks is dealt with in two separate articles: Article 7, which defines the powers of organs of local self-government, and Article 8, relating to the organs of local government. However, in the case of several powers appearing in both articles, the distinction is far from obvious. The law on the capital of Georgia contains (Article 9) a list of powers to be shared by the state and by organs of local self-government. The existence of shared powers is liable to give rise to conflicts between the organs concerned during the exercise of those powers.
39. Moreover, Article 10.2 of the institutional law on local self-government and administration raises a problem regarding the principles of local self-government. According to this article, the "Bureau of the Mayor" (executive organ of major cities) and the Gamgeoba (executive organ of districts) are executive organs of the state, which simultaneously perform the functions of executive organs of councils; thus, the state and the assemblies of local self-government even share executive organs. The rapporteurs consider that from the legal point of view these arrangements are not clear. The performance by executive organs of the functions of the executives of elected councils and the state at local level (decentralised services) is confusing and robs the elected organs of a substantial part of their room for manoeuvre, not to mention the risk of conflicts between councillors and heads of executives appointed by the President.
40. In Tbilisi, the mayor is the representative of the President, and he is appointed and dismissed by the President (Article 19 of the law on Tbilisi), whereas the Premier is the head of the executive organ (government of the municipality), whose candidature is approved by the municipal council on the basis of a proposal by the mayor. Under Article 19 of the law on the capital of Georgia, the mayor is responsible to the President of Georgia and the population, which appoints and dismisses him. The mayor's function is therefore similar to that of a prefect, commissioner or representative of the state. Prefects exist at local level in some European countries, such as France, and this institution in itself is not contrary to the principles of local self-government. The chairman of the council and the Premier are responsible for organising and implementing local self-government, whereas the mayor has to ensure that their activities are in accordance with the laws of the state. However, use of the term "mayor" to designate the representative of the state is confusing, as the mayor normally represents an autonomous and elected local entity.
41. It also seems necessary to introduce greater clarity in the division of powers between the chairman of the municipal council of Tbilisi, the mayor and the Premier.
42. Under Article 14.23 of the same law, the council is empowered to set aside decisions of the Premier and the government of Tbilisi. It would be desirable to define this right more clearly.
43. The mayor of Tbilisi is authorised to address to the President a proposal to suspend the council's activities on the basis of Article 73.1i) of the constitution, which grants the President the right to suspend the proceedings of representative organs of local authorities if their activities are prejudicial to the sovereignty or territorial integrity of the state and if they hinder the exercise of constitutional powers by state organs. Similarly, the mayor is authorised by the law to appoint the Premier if the candidature of the person proposed as Premier by the mayor has not approved by the Tbilisi Council within two weeks by a simple majority of the total number of councillors.
3.2.6. Responsibilities of local authorities
44. It is satisfying to note that, under Article 25.2 of the institutional law on the responsibility of executive organs of towns, villages and other municipal units, the Gambegeli (head of the executive organ) is responsible to the elected municipal council. However, Articles 26.2 and 26.4 specify that the heads of district executives and the mayors of major cities are responsible to the President.
45. As for the procedures for dismissing executive heads, the municipal council may pass a censure motion in respect of a Gambegeli, a Gamgeoba (executive organ) or a member of a Gamgeoba. This motion must be supported by a simple majority of the municipal council's members.
46. The procedure for dismissing mayors of major cities as well as heads of district executives is different. It is laid down in Articles 12.3 and 12.4. The members of district councils and major cities may propose to the President of Georgia or an appropriate supreme organ in Adjaria and Abkhazia a censure motion in respect of a Gambegeli, a Gamgeoba or a member of Gamgeoba, voted by a simple majority of members of the council. The President is free to accept or reject this proposal.
47. Under Article 22.5.c, a member of the council shall be dismissed before the expiry of his term of office if he has been convicted by a court. Article 23.5.c provides for the dismissal of a member of the bureau of the mayor for the same reason. It would be desirable if these provisions were to specify what offences may lead to dismissals.
3.2.7 Local finances
48. During our talks in the Administration of the President and the Committee on Local Self-Government and Regional Policy, the question of resources was discussed several times. Under Article 9.1 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, local authorities are entitled to adequate financial resources of their own. This principle is observed by the institutional law, which provides for the independence of local budgets (Article 34). However, the law does not specify either the origin or the amount of local authorities' resources. Under Article 36, the state is required to provide local authorities with a minimum budget to enable them to meet their expenses. Under the institutional law, elected councils are also required to supervise any financial transaction of the community whose amount exceeds 5 000 Lari.
49. The principal functions of councils in the financial and budgetary fields are threefold:
they discuss the summary of the local budget, adopt it and monitor its execution:
they approve socio-economic plans and supervise their execution; and
they adopt or abolish local taxes.
50. In the Administration of the President the rapporteurs were informed that at present a municipal council was empowered to levy local taxes on building, businesses, advertising and local transport.
51. It is the head of the executive, appointed by the President, who prepares the budget with the members of the council.
52. Article 37 of the same law stipulates that the delegation of the state's powers to organs of local self-government is acceptable only if accompanied by a transfer of adequate material and financial resource.
53. The institutional law empowers councils to amend the budget (Article 12.1.a), whereas the law on the capital of Georgia specifies only that in Tbilisi the approval of the draft budget is the responsibility of the council (Article 14). It would be desirable if the law on the capital were to provide for the right to amend the budget.
54. In the rapporteurs' opinion, the validity of the present budgetary system and the financial independence of local authorities still need to be confirmed, and developments in this matter should be closely monitored. In general, Georgia is experiencing considerable economic and financial difficulties, and this is inevitably affecting the position of local authorities. The Georgian authorities intend to endow local authorities in due course with adequate financial resources so that they can really bear the cost of public services and municipal infrastructures.
3.2.8 Assets of local authorities
55. The question of the assets of local authorities is dealt with briefly in Article 33 of the institutional law on local self-government and administration. However, details are given in other texts. For example, Article 31 of the law on the capital of Georgia defines assets belonging to the City of Tbilisi: "All assets situated in the territory of the City which do not belong either to the state or to individuals shall be regarded as the property of the City". The following items may be regarded as belonging to the City: buildings and constructions, dwellings, economic structures, transport enterprises, companies specialising in trade and services; educational, cultural, sporting and health institutions; industrial enterprises, construction companies and agricultural holdings; income from assets, securities (shares, bonds etc,) information, notably scientific and technical; other movable and immovable assets necessary to the administrative organs and the City for the performance of their functions; and such other items as are prescribed by Georgian legislation.
56. According to Mr Andriadze, Chairman of the Georgian Parliament's Sub-Committee on Local Self-Government, a draft law on the assets of local authorities is being considered by the sub-committee.
3.2.9 Associations of local authorities
57. The right of local authorities to associate and co-operate with other local authorities is laid down in Article 10 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. However, neither the institutional law on local self-government and administration nor the law on the capital of Georgia includes any provisions on the subject.
58. Those we talked to in Georgian Parliament emphasised the importance of such associations in a country's public life. There are plans for creating an association at national level, but, according to the Georgian Parliamentarians, an association of elected representatives cannot be created until elected local institutions have been formed and established. The CLRAE, in collaboration with the LODE programme, might assist the Georgian elected local representatives in setting up such an association.
3.2.10 Ratification of the European Charter of Local Self-Government
59. The question of Georgia's ratification of the Charter was broached in the discussions between the rapporteurs and the Georgian authorities. All those we spoke to agreed that ratification of the Charter would help to speed up the reform of local institutions. We received assurances from the Parliamentarians, on both the government and the opposition side, as well as from the President of Georgia that the country would be ready to ratify the Charter in the fairly near future.
4 LOCAL ELECTIONS
4.1 General outline
60. On 15 November 1998, local elections were held throughout Georgia, with the exception of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia and the former Autonomous District of South Ossetia. Under Article 36 of the law on elections to the representative organs of local self-government and government assemblies, these regions are not concerned by the ballot as they do not come under the jurisdiction of Georgia's supreme state organs. A CLRAE delegation observed these elections in response to the 25 August 1998 invitation from Mr Z. Zhvania, Speaker of the Georgian Parliament.
61. Local elections are held at two levels.
62. At the first level, the local elections enabled 1,031 local councils (Sakrebulos) to be elected.
63. In the 654 arrondissements, towns, villages and communities where the number of electors is lower than 2,000, elections are carried out by a uninominal majority ballot. The candidates with the most votes are deemed elected.
64. Elections to the remaining 377 local councils, where there are more than 2,000 voters, are by proportional representation.
65. At the second level, 65 district (rayon) councils have been elected. The district assemblies are elected by proportional representation on the basis of lists. The assemblies of major cities which enjoy a special status are also elected in this way. Elections at town and village level are by uninominal ballot.
4.2 The Central Electoral Commission
67. The Central Electoral Commission (hereinafter: CEC) consists of several electoral commissions. Their role is to supervise and promote candidates and parties during the electoral campaign. This takes the form, inter alia, of the provision of logistical, material and financial aid.
68. The CEC is composed of 26 individuals. It is an administrative body whose members are elected by Parliament. Its members are representatives of the political parties, their number being proportionate to the number of seats obtained in the most recent Parliamentary elections. Parties not represented in Parliament may join forces and put forward candidates to the CEC.
4.3 Participation in elections
4.3.1 Participation by political parties
69. In all, 13 political parties took part in the local elections. The Communist Party, which was originally prohibited from taking part because of the procedural problems, boycotted the elections even though it was allowed at the last minute to put forward candidates.
70. When the number of electors is higher than 2,000, only political parties can take part in the elections (no independent candidate). Furthermore, political parties must put forward candidates in at least 50% of the constituencies with more than 2,000 inhabitants. Consequently, only the big political parties, or those that form coalitions, can take part in elections. This clearly penalises small political formations, regional parties and parties of ethnic minorities which have little desire to put forward candidates on a nation-wide basis.
71. Under Article 30.2 of the above-mentioned law, members of assemblies whose number of elected representatives is 21 or more can emanate only from parties that obtained at least 5% of the votes in the constituency concerned. As most Georgian political parties are very small, such thresholds are liable to lead to an inequitable representation of citizens' votes.
4.3.2 Participation by candidates
72. Regional governors and Gamgebeli (heads of district executive organs) may be candidates in their own constituencies.
73. According to the CEC, the total number of seats to be filled was 10,691. About 100,000 candidates stood for election.
4.3.3 Participation by citizens
74. The CEC estimated the number of electors at 2,700,000.
75. Electoral registers are supposed to be ready 10 days before the elections. However, by mid-October the registers had not yet been drawn up. It was intended that they should be drawn up 20 days before the elections.
76. One of the questions to be answered before the holding of elections was on what basis the electoral registers should be drawn up. Two main references were used: the 1989 census and the elections held in 1995. The registers are compared at district level. This raised some problems before the elections, as there are 300,000 displaced persons in Georgia2. During the elections, the electors whose names had not been entered in the electoral register were able to have their names entered in the supplementary register by producing the requisite vouchers (identity card or former Soviet passport together with the residence permit - propiska). It should be noted that refugees are not entitled to vote. According to the CEC, only 12% of the population possess the new identity card; the remainder of the population still hold former Soviet passports.
77. Under Article 3.3 of the law on elections to representative organs of local self-government and government assemblies, Georgian citizens who are not in their country on the day of elections, because they are temporarily living abroad, may not take part in the ballot, nor may those travelling within the country on election day.
78. The law does not provide for a system of proxy voting, in order to limit the scope for fraud.
79. Military personnel vote at the place of their barracks in the case of district council and major city elections. They do not participate in municipal elections. Students must vote at the place of their residence, i.e. where they live, insofar as they have proof of this. One can question the reasoning which motivated the difference of treatment between military and refugees, given the fact that both groups are outside of their permanent residences when voting.
4.4 Financing of elections
80. Article 12 of the law on elections to representative organs of local self government and government assemblies stipulates that the state shall bear the cost of preparing and holding elections.
81. In view of the country's economic difficulties, the funds for preparing the elections were provided very belatedly. According to the CEC, the government granted 1,000,000 Lari for the holding of the elections. Subsequently, the Foundation of the President of Georgia granted 500,000 Lari.
82. During our meeting with the Georgian political representatives in mid-October, it became clear that the preparation and financing of the election had so far been inadequate. According to the opposition, the political parties had not yet received any money from the state by that date. The smaller political parties were therefore penalised.
83. The various electoral commissions have considerable recourse to voluntary help.
84. According to the relevant legislation, no financial aid may come from abroad. Technical support is possible, however.
4.5 Conduct of elections and length of terms of office
85. Article 1.1 of the law on elections to representative organs of local self government and government assemblies stipulates that voting shall be universal, egalitarian, direct and secret.
86. The results of elections based on proportional representation are valid if at least one-third of the electorate took part in the vote. In the second round of voting, the results are valid regardless of the number of electors who took part. In our mid-October meetings, the opposition Parliamentarians stated that in the case of failure to elect a council, whatever the reasons might be, the central authority would appoint the council with the agreement of Parliament.
87. In a district, elections are not valid if fewer than 20% of the electorate voted.
88. In the rapporteurs' opinion, one of the weak points of local elections is the brevity of elected representatives' terms of office. Members of district assemblies, as well as of villages, arrondissements, communities and towns, are elected for three years. Members of the Tbilisi council are elected for only two years. As the first elections are those that will appoint the members of these assemblies, and in view of the magnitude of the task awaiting elected representatives, it is to be feared that the latter will not be able to carry out any large-scale projects before further elections are held.
89. According to the Georgian authorities, the present period is a transitional one. In future, it is intended to increase the length of terms of office from three to four years.
90. In the same way, there is no provision concerning the inability of an elected representative to perform his functions during his term of office. For example, if an elected representative dies, should new elections be held or is there a system of substitution? These questions are vital, especially in the case of uninominal majority voting.
4.6 Observation of the elections of 15 November 1998
91. The local elections in Georgia were observed by a CLRAE delegation led by Mr Gabor Kolumban, co-rapporteur on the situation regarding local and regional democracy in Georgia, and consisting of 14 members. A detailed programme of the observation of elections is to be found in Appendix III. A list of the CLRAE delegation's members appears in Appendix IV hereto. The elections were observed in close co-ordination with the OSCE's mission in Georgia.
92. On 14 November 1998 the CLRAE delegation split up into the following seven groups for the purpose of observing the elections:
- Mr Lassing and Mr Bregartner visited the polling stations at Batumi (Autonomous Republic of Adjaria);
- Mr Geguzinskas and Mr Harris observed the elections at Zugdidi (region of Samegrelo);
- Mr Bohner and Mr Lanskauskas visited polling stations at Kutaissi, Terzola and Zestaponi (region of Imereti);
- Mrs Tolonen and Mr Eng observed the elections at Samtredia and Ozurgeti (region of Guria);
- Mr Khotlubey and Mr Rogov visited polling stations at Signakhi (region of Kakhetia);
- Mr Sytine and Mrs Iker observed the elections at Ozurgeti (region of Guria) and Kobuleti (Autonomous Republic of Adjaria);
- Mr Kolumban and Mr Khochabo visited polling stations at Tbilisi and in the arrondissement of Didi Digomi.
93. The observers were provided with technical and logistic support by the OSCE's mission in Georgia.
94. Voting began at 7 am and ended at 8 pm. Some polling stations opened late for various reasons. The observers visited ten polling stations on average. Vote-counting ended at about 11.30 pm.
95. These elections were the first major contest between the majority and the opposition since the 1995 Parliamentary and presidential elections.
96. In the meetings between the CLRAE delegation and the Parliamentary opposition, the latter expressed three main criticisms.
97. The first one concerned the pressure brought to bear on the population. It was alleged that, as the country's economic situation was very difficult, employees had not been paid for 7-8 months and the government was trying to exert financial pressure on the population by favouring certain regions. The meagre resources in the state budget were being used to supply those regions that were regarded as priority ones by the government. According to the opposition, financial irregularities had increased since the beginning of the electoral campaign.
98. The second criticism related to a lack of awareness and mobilisation among the population. The opposition claimed that the trend towards indifference was being encouraged: the state did not use the media or public broadcasting stations to explain the importance of local self-government to the public. Few people knew that elections were being held, and those that did know thought it was a presidential election.
99. Thirdly, the opposition reproached the authorities with exerting constant pressure on its candidates to persuade them to give up electoral campaigning. According to the opposition's representatives, that had happened on account of the appointment of heads of local executives as chairmen of local electoral commissions. In the rapporteurs' opinion, it would be useful in future to review the arrangements for selecting the chairmen of local electoral commissions and to specify their duties and responsibilities, as well as to improve their training. It would also be useful to draw up rules that would prevent candidates from withdrawing their candidatures beyond a certain time-limit. This would put an end to attempts to exert pressure and would make the voting procedure clearer in the eyes of voters, who would no longer be confronted with last-minute withdrawals.
100. During their stay in Georgia before the elections, some members of the CLRAE delegation observed that certain broadcasting stations put out regular news on the elections as well as electoral publicity for various political parties. It should be noted, however, that a long programme on the recent history of Georgia, broadcast on the Saturday night (the eve of the elections), could be regarded as thinly veiled electoral propaganda. Some potential voters, when questioned in the street, seemed to be generally well informed of the elections and their nature.
101. The rapporteurs would like to emphasise the strong mobilisation and presence of the internal observers representing political formations or NGOs at the polling stations on election day. This helped to ensure greater clarity in the conduct of the elections.
102. According to the CLRAE's observers, the local elections went off without any major violent incident. However, some serious incidents were reported by the other international observers and related in the local press, such as the one that occurred in the Martveli district, where the central electoral commission's seals had been stolen.
103. In Adjaria, the winning party was that of Aslan Abashidze, which received approximately 90% of the votes. The rapporteurs would like to point out that regional self-government should not impair the functioning of pluralist democracy at local level and preclude freedom of competition between media organs.
104. The observers noticed that in several cases electors had not been properly informed of the voting procedure and practicalities. Often, several electors would enter the same voting booth at once. In some cases, the CLRAE delegation's members observed the presence of police officers at polling stations, summoned by the polling station presidents.
105. On the eve of the elections some voting papers disappeared from the headquarters of electoral commission no. 2 in Tbilisi (Vake district). Some of them had allegedly been removed by an unknown person while being transported.
106. In Tbilisi the voting papers had been printed only in the Georgian language. It would be desirable for voting papers also to be printed in minority languages in major cities whose inhabitants include ethnic minorities.
107. The CLRAE's delegation noticed, moreover, that the technical and logistical facilities made available to the electoral commissions were in many cases very poor. The practical conditions were not ideal and, consequently, the arrangements made within the polling stations were not always functional. The voting booths did not always ensure secrecy of voting.
108. In some cases the observers noted that political parties (differing from one place to another) were actively campaigning on election day itself (rallies in town, cars with posters outside the polling stations, posters on buildings housing polling stations etc).
109. In the rapporteurs' opinion, the few irregularities observed, such as the simultaneous presence of several people in the voting booths or the casting of votes by electors outside the voting booths, reflect a lack of experience rather than any fraudulent intention.
4.7 Conclusions on the observation of the elections
110. After observing the elections, the 89 international observers from 28 countries held an exchange of views on the way in which they had been conducted. A broad convergence of views emerged, especially with regard to the above-mentioned irregularities. The observers also noted that certain aspects of the preparation and conduct of the elections should be improved.
111. The observers considered it necessary: to provide in good time the financial resources needed for organising the elections; to improve the dissemination of information on voting procedures, if necessary in the languages of ethnic minorities; to arrange for the training of members of local electoral commissions; to clarify the role of public authorities in the electoral process; and to examine the possibility of drawing up a single electoral code.
112. Some members of the CLRAE delegation took part in a press conference on 17 November 1998, where they presented the text of the delegation's press release and answered journalists' questions (see appended press release).
5. PROSPECTS FOR REGIONALISATION
5.1 General points
113. The rapporteurs consider that the question of the regionalisation of Georgia is an important factor in the processing of Georgia's application for membership of the Council of Europe.
114. The question of regionalisation, covered in the discussions with the Georgian representatives, assumes a special connotation in the case of Georgia, where dissension between, on the one hand, the Georgian Government and, on the other, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, former autonomous territories of the Soviet Union, gave rise to armed conflicts in 1992 and 1990 respectively.
115. So far, no peaceful and lasting political solution has been found. Relations between Georgia and the autonomous territories are still one of the main obstacles to the construction of the Georgian state. The constitution of 1995 does not provide for any administrative and territorial organisation: it merely states that the internal territorial organisation of the state will be defined after Georgia's jurisdiction over the whole territory has been restored.
116. However, the constitution of Georgia leaves the door open to discussions on the country's regionalisation, even on its federal structure. In particular, it provides for the setting up in due course of a bicameral Parliament composed of the Council of the Republic and the Senate, after the appropriate conditions have been created throughout Georgia and the organs of local self-government established. The Senate will consist of members elected in Abkhazia, Adjaria and the other territorial units (as well as 5 senators appointed by the President).
117. The present complex Georgian system of territorial administration is de facto asymmetrical: of the three autonomous territories integrated into Georgia, only Adjaria has kept its former autonomous status. The statuses of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are still to be defined.
118. Under a presidential decree, Georgia comprises 12 regions (including two autonomous republics - Abkhazia and Adjaria - and the capital, Tbilisi).
119. In nine regions, ie in all regions except Abkhazia, Adjaria and Tbilisi, the regional administration is headed by a governor, who was appointed by the President but whose appointment is challenged by the opposition. The regions do not yet have any well-defined legal status. The division between different regions reflects the historical and cultural division between various parts of Georgia's territory. The introduction of a regional level in the administrative division of the territory is, together with the holding of local elections, the most significant development that has occurred since 1992 in the Georgian system of local self-government.
120. After their discussion with the Governor of the Mtskheta-Mtianeti region, the rapporteurs remain convinced that the President's representatives have become firmly established in the regions. In January 1996, regional budgets and arrangements regarding the President's representatives in the regions were adopted, and regional funds set up. Questions might be asked about the future of the office of representative of the President in the regions. Is this a temporary institution? The Governors are supposed to ensure co-ordination of the local authorities' actions. Such a view of things is at variance with the spirit of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
121. According to the Georgian President's staff, elections will be held at regional level as soon as relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been normalised.
122. In our discussion with the Speaker of the Parliament, Mr Jvania, on 24 October 1998, Mr Zhvania said that he foresaw the organisation in due course of an asymmetrical form of federalism and a more extensive form of regionalism with the widening of the other regions' powers. The principle is broadly supported within the majority. Regionalisation will be an important stage in the development of Georgia, and the country's administration will be more effective as a result.
123. This opinion was corroborated in the discussion with the President of Georgia, who stated that Georgia would eventually have to adopt an asymmetrical federal model. In the opinion of Mr Shevardnadze, this model would enable the ongoing conflicts to be calmed.
124. However, this view is not shared by the Georgian political class as a whole. Some parties are in favour of a unitary state, with the grant of autonomy being strictly limited to the cultural or linguistic field.
125. On 22 August 1995 the Parliament of Sukhumi proclaimed Abkhazia's full and total independence. On 25 August the same year, in the negotiations between Georgia and Abkhazia, which were held in Moscow, the idea of a federation was rejected by the Abkhazian authorities. On the other hand, the idea of holding independent elections to legitimise the new government of Abkhazia has made headway. The Abkhazian elections of 23 November 1996 were declared unlawful by the Georgian authorities.
126. According to the figures quoted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe3 in 1989, before the beginning of the conflict, Abkhazians represented 17,8% of the total population of the autonomous republic. It is also interesting to note that in 1926, according to the same source, the abkhazian and georgian populations were respectively 55 918 et 67 494 inhabitants. The Abkhazian people are still insisting on the same status as Georgia, which is unacceptable to Tbilisi. Eduard Shevardnadze, in his first speech as President of the Republic (26 November 1995), made the following statement: "We have always maintained, and we do so again today, that Georgia must be provided with a federal structure. Abkhazia will be a subject of the federation and will enjoy wide political autonomy. It will have its own constitution, which should conform to the constitution of a unified state. The Republic of Abkhazia will have its own Parliament, a supreme court, an anthem, an emblem and other attributes of a state".
127. According to President Shevardnadze, tension and separatist tendencies are still strong in Abkhazia; but he expressed a certain optimism, hoping that an agreement on the status of Abkhazia, which is making good progress, would be concluded fairly soon, following the regular contacts established with the Abkhazian leaders. The Abkhaz President, Mr Arzinba, recently visited Tbilisi, and President Shevardnadze is to go to Sukhumi in the near future.
5.3 South Ossetia
128. Since July 1995 a joint committee composed of delegations of Georgia, the Russian Federation, North Ossetia and South Ossetia, as well as representatives of the OSCE mission in Tbilisi, has been meeting regularly to achieve a peaceful settlement of the disputes between South Ossetia and Georgia. Its main task is to work out a political status for South Ossetia that will be acceptable to all the parties concerned.
129. In 1996 a memorandum was signed whereby both sides agreed to the territorial integrity of Georgia being preserved and South Ossetia being granted "special powers of self-determination". Russia and Georgia have decided to set up two groups of specialists in economic, political and legal questions, as well as a joint secretariat.
130. The decision to reduce the number of soldiers of peace in the region may be regarded as a sign of progress towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
131. The constitution of Adjaria provides for the setting up of a supreme council presided over by the leader of the Autonomous Republic of Adjaria, who is also the head of the executive organ. In January 1998 the Supreme Council of Adjaria approved a constitutional revision whereby the President of the Council will be elected for five years by universal suffrage. Until now the President has been appointed by the Council.
132. The present president of the Supreme Council is Mr Aslan Abashidze, the founder and leader of the Party of Democratic Renewal. In the last Parliamentary elections held throughout Georgia, this party came second in Georgia as a whole, behind the party in power, the Union of Citizens of Georgia.
133. The Supreme Council, subject to the agreement of the President of Georgia, appoints for five years the judges of the Supreme Court, the district courts and the regional courts of the major cities. The last elections to the Supreme Council were held in September 1996.
134. After their talks with the Georgian representatives and Mr Abashidze, the rapporteurs noted the complexity of relations between the centre and the Republic. They are convinced that the settlement of the conflicts depends on the reaching of a compromise and on co-operation between the central authorities and the regions. In the case of Adjaria, the protagonists should show greater openness in the discussions giving rise to divergences of opinion, such as those on the distribution of tax revenue.
135. Adjaria and the region of Imereti became members of the Assembly of European Regions, with observer status vis-à-vis the CLRAE, in 1997 and 1998 respectively.
136. The rapporteurs wished to emphasise that the transition to democracy and a market economy would not be possible without the existence of genuine local and regional self-government. Democracy can be more concrete and effective at local and regional level. Local and regional authorities occupy a key position for providing citizens with infrastructures and basic services. The promotion of the rule of law, democratic security and stability in the new European architecture clearly demands a strengthening of local and regional authorities.
137. In conclusion, the rapporteurs consider that the full establishment of institutions of local and regional democracy has not yet taken place but has only just begun in Georgia with the adoption of the institutional law and the holding of the first local elections on 15 November 1998. Being aware of the difficulties connected with the setting up of the institutions of regional democracy, they believe that legislative work in this field should be carried out as soon as possible.
138. The first observation that may be made on the situation regarding local and regional authority in Georgia concerns the lack of expertise among most local councillors. This is a fundamental problem which should be solved by means of sound political education so as to enable Georgia to establish a genuine system of local self-government. More than 10,000 councillors were recently elected, and most of them had had no comparable political responsibility previously.
139. The informing and training of local councillors could, to some extent, fill these gaps and help to democratise political life as fully as possible for the benefit of Georgian society as a whole.
140. With an eye to the examination of Georgia's application to join the Council of Europe, the rapporteurs propose that Georgia give a number of undertakings in the field of local and regional democracy.
141. The rapporteurs believe that Georgia, when joining the Council of Europe, should undertake:
1) With regard to the Council of Europe's conventions:
142. To sign and ratify within three years the following Council of Europe conventions:
- the European Charter of Local Self-Government (ETS 122)
- the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ETS 148)
- the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation between Territorial Communities or Authorities, and the Additional Protocols thereto (ETS 106, 159 and 169)
2) With regard to regional democracy:
143. The rapporteurs urge Georgia to make the fullest possible use of the draft European Charter on Regional Self-Government when the Georgian authorities come to define the country's territorial structures. This text may, in particular, be useful to Georgia for the settlement of the conflict in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The rapporteurs also call on the Georgian authorities to clarify the status of the other regions of Georgia. At present their existence is based solely on a presidential decree, whereas their status should be laid down in the constitution and in legislation. The wide powers conferred under this decree on the representatives appointed by the President are not in accordance with democratic principles. These authorities are neither elected nor supervised by an elected body. As a transitional measure, it might be imagined entrusting a council emanating from the district assemblies elected on 15 November 1998 with the task of supervising the action of the President's representatives.
144. In the rapporteurs' opinion, Georgia should undertake to find appropriate ways of defining the principles of asymmetrical federalism which might form a basis for the country's territorial organisation. The CLRAE might provide all its help and experience in this field, especially in the light of its contribution to the drawing up, in co-operation with the Venice Commission, of a proposal concerning the future status of Kosovo. The rapporteurs consider that each of Georgia's regions should be provided with an elected assembly and an executive elected by that assembly or by the population. As for the regions' powers, they should be laid down in the constitution. Should the regions be required to supervise the activities of local authorities, this power ought to be confined to the cases specified in the relevant provisions of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
145. The CLRAE should, in agreement with the responsible Georgian authorities, organise one or more seminars on federalism, regionalism and decentralisation, if possible with the support of a joint Council of Europe/European Union programme.
146. With regard more particularly to Adjaria, this region seems to enjoy a status of very broad autonomy. However, the observations made on the spot and the discussions held elsewhere raised considerable doubts about the reality about the region's political pluralism. Despite unquestionable achievements (preservation of peace, some economic progress etc), the situation seems more akin to a "single-party" system than to the Council of Europe's basic principles and should be paid special attention.
3) With regard to local democracy:
147. The rapporteurs consider that the practice of appointment by the President of the heads of the executive organs of major cities and districts (rayoni) is contrary to the to the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. These persons should be elected by the councils or the population at all levels of local self-government. Georgia should undertake to amend the above-mentioned legislative provisions concerning the appointment of heads of executives within not more than three years before the next local elections, as was, in principle, promised by President Shevardnadze.
148. A clear division of powers between the state and local authorities is one of the main principles of local self-government. On the whole, in order to observe the principles of local self-government, Georgian legislation should divide powers more clearly between the state and local authorities and separate the administrative systems of elected local organs and decentralised services of the state at major city and district level.
149. Under Georgian legislation, the terms of office of members of local self-government councils last three years, while those of members of the Tbilisi assembly last only two years. As elected representatives are to take on heavy responsibilities - especially because local self-government is a new institution in Georgian society - they will probably not be able to carry out any large-scale projects before the next elections. It would therefore be desirable in the interests of the smooth functioning of local democracy if the length of terms of office for all local assemblies were to be extended to four years.
150. The financial aspects are also important, both as regards the reality of local self-government and in terms of the cost of organising elections. The rapporteurs strongly recommend the Georgian authorities to prepare and adopt, within three years, the appropriate legislation concerning local finances and the assets of local authorities. In the preparation of draft laws, the Georgian authorities may call on the help of the Council of Europe's experts, notably those of the LODE programme.
151. Georgian legislation on local self-government does not deal with associations of local authorities. As the right to associate with other local authorities is embodied in the European Charter of Local Self-Government, it would also be desirable to include it in Georgian legislation. The LODE programme experts might provide the necessary assistance in this connection. The involvement of one or more associations of local authorities considerably enhances a country's democratic life.
152. As regards the local elections of 15 November 1998 observed by the CLRAE, the fact that they were conducted without any major violent incident shows that Georgia has made some progress in the establishment of local institutions. Free local elections are the basis of pluralist democracy in every country. The rapporteurs therefore salute the Georgian authorities' efforts to initiate the movement towards local democracy. The next stage in the setting up of local institutions will be to provide local councils (Sakrebulos) with the powers, resources and training necessary to enable them to act in accordance with the will expressed by the electorate.
153. There is an urgent need for the early adoption of the legislation required to endow elected local and district organs with their own administrative staff, in accordance with the European Charter of Local Self-Government, as well as to provide that staff with proper training. This would open up a genuine prospect of decentralisation in the country.
154. It should be noted that the local elections did not go off without some difficulties. The rapporteurs are convinced that the drawing up of an electoral code, rather than several laws or other legislative or regulatory instruments, should be done before the 1999 Parliamentary elections. The financial resources envisaged for the organisation of elections should be made available early enough to ensure that the elections take place smoothly, that all political formations have equitable access to public funds and that the electorate is provided with relevant information. Georgia should amend its legislation governing local elections so that regional parties and the parties of ethnic minorities can put forward their candidates wherever they see fit. In the case of local elections, it would be proper if lists of specifically local initiatives could be drawn up.
155. Furthermore, the rules applying to the activities of electoral commissions should be amended, especially as regards the selection of members of local electoral commissions and the clarification of their powers and responsibilities.
The rapporteurs hope that all intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations will contribute their support and technical help to the organisation of elections.
4) Recommendations to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe:
157. The rapporteurs hope that the Parliamentary Assembly will be able to take account of their conclusions in drawing up its Opinion on Georgia's application for membership, especially as regards the undertakings to be given by that country.
5) Recommendations to the CLRAE and to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe:
158. A system of training for local councillors and local administrators should be instituted without delay. Such training, in the same way as other aspects of the promotion of local self-government, should be covered by the joint Council of Europe/European Union programme. The LODE programme, in collaboration with the European Union, might also provide its support in the creation of a training centre for municipal councillors and administrators, possibly in co-operation with Tbilisi State University. The CLRAE is ready to make available to the Georgian authorities the experience gained in the framework of the ENTO (European Network of Training Organisations for municipal councillors and administrators). This training effort might be supplemented by the dissemination of the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government through the holding of seminars or colloquies as part of the CLRAE's activities and the LODE programme.
159. In this context, a Council of Europe information and documentation centre, set up in Tbilisi, might serve as a channel for the distribution of relevant information concerning local and regional self-government. A regional information centre might be established in Adjaria (Batumi).
160. In order to provide training for local councillors, the existing twinning arrangements should be used as fully as possible. Such a partnership might be based on the example of the triangular co-operation between Tbilisi, Saarbrücken and Nantes or the partnership between Georgia and Saar land.
161. The rapporteurs support the idea of setting up one or more agencies of local democracy in difficult regions in Georgia in order to foster better intercommunity understanding.
The rapporteurs propose that the CLRAE Bureau adopt these conclusions.
Draft programme of the visit of the CLRAE Delegation
(19-24 October 1998, Tbilisi, Batumi)
"Adjara – a new region in Europe.
The principles of local and regional self-government in Europe"
Place: Batumi, Adjarian Autonomous Republic, Georgia
Date: 22-23 October 1998
Honourable Chairman: Mr Aslan ABASHIDZE, Chairman of the Supreme Council of Adjarian Autonomous Republic, Head of Autonomous Republic
Chairman of the Conference: Mr Gabor KOLUMBAN, member of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, Council of Europe
Observation of local elections in Georgia (11-17 November 1998)
CLRAE DELEGATION TO OBSERVE LOCAL ELECTIONS IN GEORGIA TO BE HELD ON 15 NOVEMBER 1998
1. Mr Horst LASSING, Germany, Chamber of Local Authorities
2. Mr Karl BREGARTNER, Austria, Chamber of Local Authorities
3. Mr Gintautats GEGUZINSKAS, Lithuania, Chamber of Local Authorities
4. Mr Jakob ENG, Norway, Chamber of Local Authorities
5. Mr Alfredas LANKAUSKAS, Lithuania, Chamber of Local Authorities
6. Mr Gabor KOLUMBAN, Romania, Chamber of Regions
7. Mr Ron HARRIS, United Kingdom, Chamber of Local Authorities
8. Mr Viatcheslav ROGOV, Russian Federation, Chamber of Local Authorities
9. Ms Lea TOLONEN, Finland, Chamber of Local Authorities
10. Mr Youri KHOTLUBEY, Ukraine, Chamber of Local Authorities
11. Ms Laura IKER, Belgium, Expert, Federal Parliament of Belgium
Mr Ulrich BOHNER, Deputy Head of the CLRAE Secretariat
Mr Daniil KHOSHABO, Adminstrator of the CLRAE Secretariat
LODE Programme Secretariat:
Mr Arkady SYTINE, LODE Programme Adviser
Program of meetings on the occasion of the conference
"Local democracy in a modern society"
(14-16 July 1997, Tbilisi)
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities: statement on local elections in Georgia
TBILISI, 17.11.98 – A delegation from the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) – a body representing local and regional elected officials from the COUNCIL OF EUROPE’s 40 member States – observed the first local elections held in Georgia on 15 November.
The delegation, made up of 14 observers from 11 European countries, today made the following statement:
“Within the framework of the examination of Georgia’s application for Council of Europe membership, a CLRAE delegation visited Georgia from 11 to 18 November. The delegation was headed by the co-rapporteur for local and regional democracy in Georgia, Mr Gabor Kolumban (Romania).
On 16 November, Mr Kolumban met with President of Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze. He transmitted to Mr Shevardnadze a personal message from Mr Alain Chénard, CLRAE President, stating the Congress’ readiness to provide Georgian authorities with the necessary assistance to ensure transition to local and regional democracy, with the help of the Council of Europe’s Local Democracy (LODE) programme. The introduction of local democracy projects into the Joint Programme of the Council of Europe and the European Union should also be foreseen.
Mr Kolumban expressed the wish that the mayors of Georgia’s six big cities and the heads of district executive bodies should be elected by the end of the present transitory period. Sharing this view, Mr Shevardnadze stated that the necessary changes would be made before the next elections, within three years. He also indicated that “asymmetric federalism” could be a solution for the country’s future territorial structure, giving different regions the necessary degree of autonomy.
The CLRAE delegation also met with Mr Zurab Zhvania, Chairman of the Parliament, Mr Andriadze, Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Local Affairs, Mr Jumber Lominadze, President of the Central Electoral Committee, Mr Shalva Natelashvili, Leader of the Laborist Party, Mr Vakhtang Rcheulishvili, Leader of the Socialist Party, and Mr Zaza Sakvarelidze, Chief of Staff of the National Democratic Party (NDP). They discussed matters related to the preparation of local elections and, more generally, to the local and regional democracy in Georgia.
Mr Kolumban invited Georgian authorities to ratify the European Charter of Local Self-Government and the European Charter of Minority and Regional Languages when becoming a Council of Europe member. These two major legal European instruments could be put at the disposal of Georgia to build up democracy at local and regional level. The experience of the Congress in the field of regional autonomy might be also useful for Georgia in the ongoing process of restoring peace in the whole country.
The Congress delegation observed the local elections in close co-ordination with the OSCE Mission to Georgia. It fully shares the views expressed in the preliminary statement made by OSCE, which described the elections as a very significant step towards establishment of self-governance effectively responsive to the needs of the local community.
Mr Kolumban stressed the importance of the elections in the light of Georgia’s accession to the Council of Europe. The Congress would like to underline in this respect the role of freely elected local institutions which are the basis of pluralist democracy in every country.
The fact that the local elections, contested by many parties, were held without any major violent incidents shows that the country has made significant progress on the way of joining the family of European nations, represented by the Council of Europe.
The next step for the development of local democracy will be to give local government the necessary competences, means and training to enable them to act in conformity with the will expressed by the voters. This would be an important contribution to democratic stability and peace in this part of Europe.”
The elections’ evaluation will be included in a report on the state of local and regional democracy in Georgia, currently being prepared by the Congress.
A political organisation set up in 1949, the Council of Europe promotes democracy and human rights continent-wide. It also develops common responses to social, cultural and legal challenges in its 40 member states.
PRESS STATEMENT ON LOCAL ELECTIONS
15 NOVEMBER 1998
The OSCE Mission welcomes the first local elections held in Georgia on 15 November, 1998. This has been a very significant step towards establishment of self-governance effectively responsive to the needs of the local community.
89 international observers from 28 countries visited 37 districts and 410 polling stations. The OSCE Mission to Georgia co-ordinated the observation efforts of the participating Diplomatic Missions and International Organizations present in Georgia, as well as those of a 14-member delegation from the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.
As the OSCE stated in its press release on 9 November 1998 the aim of this limited observation effort was to identify possible elements of the election process which could be strengthened and improved in view of future elections, the first being the parliamentary elections next year.
The group of international observers has exchanged impressions on the elections and has expressed their commitment to continue a constructive dialogue among all participants in the election process. This would include relevant Georgian institutions and local NGOs.
In this context, the OSCE would like to put forward suggestions of working towards the following:
Timely and sufficient funding of the elections;
Strengthening of civic and voter education, including minority languages;
Improved mechanism of the selection of Election Commission members, their responsibilities and term of office;
Clear definitions of the appropriate role of public authorities in the election process, including presence of officials at the polling stations on election day;
Better training and provision of information to all members of the Election Commissions;
Consider the establishment of a unified electoral code and strengthened provisions for its enforcement and penalties;
Reviewing the principles on the voting of temporary residents;
Transparency and clarity of complaint procedures and adjudication, as well clear procedure of record-keeping at all levels of the electoral administration;
Re-examination of deadlines for changes in rules and instructions to the various levels of elections administrations.
The OSCE Mission to Georgia would like to use this opportunity to reiterate its commitment to support to work on democratic institution building throughout the country, in which the election process plays an important part.
1 "Georgian citizens shall determine matters of local importance within the system of self-government, provided that this shall not affect the sovereignty of the state. The right to create self-governing organs, as well as their powers and their relations with state organs, shall be embodied in an institutional law."
2 Figures of the HCR, quoted in the Parliamentary Assembly report on refugees and displaced persons in Transcaucasia (3 June 1997, Rapporteur Ms Ana Guirado), p.14.
3 Report on the conflicts in Transcaucasia region, 10 April 1977, Rapporteur Mr Jean Seitlinger, p.6