NEW CHANGES IN GEORGIA’S LAW ON POLITICAL PARTIES
The Parliament of Georgia passed draft amendments to the Organic Law on Political Unions of Citizens in its second reading on April 24. The new changes aim to ease the strict regulations imposed by the original amendments, which were initiated by the Georgian government in fall 2011.
The preparation process has included discussions among political parties, NGOs and international organizations but has failed to reach a consensus among the parties. Nevertheless, the Parliament of Georgia adopted the first amendments to the Organic Law on December 28.
The amended law imposed new limitations to the financial and political activities of political parties. It prevented donations to political parties from legal persons and limited the total amount of a party’s overall annual funding to 0.2 percent of Georgia’s GDP. This implies that money received by a party whether from donations, membership fees or state funding should not exceed GEL 53 million, given next year’s prospective nominal GDP of GEL 26.5 billion. Further, it doubled the maximum allowed donation from a single individual from GEL 30 000 to GEL 60 000, though imposing a ceiling of GEL 1200 on membership fees that did not exist previously. Also, aggregate donations to a single party from a group of individual donors with the same source of income could not exceed GEL 500 000 annually, while money can be transferred only through a commercial bank registered in Georgia.
In addition to the financial restrictions, the new regulations banned parties and their representatives from donating money and gifts and from selling or procuring goods at prices below or above the market price in attempts to persuade the electorate. Even more important from a political standpoint was that the new restrictions applied not only to entities and individuals having “declared political and electoral goals” but also to those who are “directly or indirectly related to or otherwise under the control of a political party.” This formulation dramatically extended the range of organizations and individuals monitored by the state audit agency – the Chamber of Control. The latter is authorized to check the accuracy and legality of the financial declarations of political parties and impose sanctions in the event of violations.
Whereas the government insists that the amendments to the law will ensure transparency in political party funding, prevent corruption and support political competition, the opposition parties and a considerable part of the civil society argue that the new provisions impede civil-political activities, create an uneven election environment and assign unconstitutional power to the Chamber of Control.
Election watchdog and legal advocacy groups as well as some media outlets have launched the protest campaign “This Affects You Too” and proposed recommendations with an aim to improve the controversial legislative amendments. The EU representation has also called on the government “to maintain a dialogue with all players as well as with the civil society.”
Given the domestic and international pressure, Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili declared a readiness to continue dialogue on the matter in his annual state of the nation address in parliament on February 29. In less than two months, the government has accepted most of the recommendations offered by the campaign group, resulting in the most recent amendments to the Organic Law.
The recent draft amendments limit the spectrum of entities falling under the Chamber’s oversight to groups who have “declared electoral goals” instead of “declared political and electoral goals.” The wording “directly or indirectly” is to be removed and the fines imposable by the Chamber of Control on parties in case of violation are to be reduced. The campaign group considers its main accomplishment to be the Chamber’s commitment to immediately notify court about a party’s violation.
Although the campaign group considers the new amendments to be productive, they are denounced by opposition parties, and especially those allied with tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili. MP Giorgi Tsagareishvili, a member of Our Georgia – Free Democrats, a party in Bidzina Ivanishvili’s coalition, claims that the government established the first amendments with the sole purpose of excluding Ivanishvili and his supporters from the political process. The amendments tailored by a campaign group “actually changes nothing for political players,” he said.
Likewise, MP Jondi Bagaturia, a member of the opposition parliamentary faction Unity for Justice said that the draft amendments have not yet brought “real improvements” to the Organic law, since the Chamber of Control maintains the power to interrogate opposition activists, as has been the case with Ivanishvili’s supporters.
Meanwhile, lawmakers and senior officials of the ruling party claim that the legislative amendments are merely intended to prevent political bribery and improve legal gaps to prevent large financial resources from having a “disproportionate influence on the democratic processes.”
While those arguments seem well-founded, lasting controversies around the law instill further pre-electoral tensions in Georgia.