Georgia: co-rapporteurs urge all political forces to find a compromise on election system before the next elections

At the end of their fact-finding visit to Tbilisi from 12 to 14 October 2015, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) co-rapporteurs for Georgia, Boriss Cilevics (Latvia SOC) and Kerstin Lundgren (Sweden, ALDE), urged the ruling majority and opposition to find a mutually acceptable compromise on the electoral system and timing of its implementation before the next elections take place.

“It is essential that such a compromise is found before the next elections take place,“ said the co-rapporteurs, who added that “since 2007, the Assembly has been urging the ruling majority and the opposition to reach a consensus on the election system. Regrettably, since 2007, the ruling majority and opposition, irrespective of their members, have been unable to reach such a consensus, which has been a permanent source of tension in the political environment. We are therefore glad to see that there is a principle agreement on the system itself. It is essential that any new electoral system is codified in the constitution before the next election takes place, otherwise this issue will return for the 2020 elections”.

The co-rapporteurs also stressed the importance of a pluralist media environment reflecting the different views existing in society in the run up to the elections. They noted the on-going court case with regard to the ownership of Rustavi 2, and, without wishing to judge on the merits of this case, expressed their hope that the outcome would not undermine a vibrant and genuinely pluralist media environment in the country. “We will follow the developments regarding this case closely,” they stressed.

With regard to the judiciary and justice system, the rapporteurs welcomed the reforms that have been implemented over recent years and which, in the view of most interlocutors, have had a very positive impact on the independence of the judiciary. At the same time, the rapporteurs emphasised that a number of serious deficiencies still exist in the justice system - as inter alia noted in the OSCE/ODIHR trial monitoring report - and these need to be urgently addressed. “We are therefore encouraged by the assurances of the authorities that the reforms will continue, and we will follow these developments closely,” said the co-rapporteurs.

In this respect, the rapporteurs noted that the recent changes in the law on the Office of the General Prosecutor, while being a clear step forward, are only the first phase of the reform of this important service and should be followed-up by further reforms, especially with a view to strengthening its independence from any undue influence by the executive. While considering the appointment process for the Prosecutor General to be clear progress from the previous situation, the rapporteurs questioned the continuing strong influence of the executive in this process. They therefore recommended that the authorities consider removing the requirement that the government needs to agree with the nominee elected by the Prosecutorial Council, before he or she is sent to the parliament for appointment with a majority vote.

Finally, the rapporteurs welcomed the recent decision of the Constitutional Court with regard to the use of pre-trial detention, which resolves an important concern expressed by the Assembly and its rapporteurs in their report last year. While the rapporteurs acknowledged the progress made with regard to the use of pre-trial detention, they were concerned about reported cases where pre-trial detention ostensibly continues to be applied for reasons other than the strict framework that is set by the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. In this context, the rapporteurs stressed that pre-trial detention should never be used as a form of punishment or deterrent. Further reforms, and especially more training about the use of pre-trial detention for both judiciary and prosecution service is necessary. The rapporteurs welcomed the stated plans of the authorities in this respect.

During their visit, they met the Speaker of Parliament, President, Prime Minister, and Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Internal Affairs and Reconciliation, as well as the heads of the Constitutional Court and the State Security Service, the General Prosecutor and the Public Defender. They also had meetings with Georgian civil society groups, the head of the EU monitoring mission to Georgia, and the members of the Georgian delegation to PACE.

The co-rapporteurs will present their information note on this visit to the Monitoring Committee meeting on 9 December 2015, and intend to return to the country in early 2016.