Ruling party head pledges “fair, competitive” 2024 elections but opposes Venice Commission opinion on election body staff

Kobakhidze pledged the elections would be conducted with “utmost integrity” to “minimise any grounds for criticism”. Photo: Georgian Dream press office, 20 Dec 2023 - 12:15, Tbilisi,Georgia

Irakli Kobakhidze, the head of the ruling Georgian Dream party, on Tuesday claimed the country’s authorities were “well-prepared” for next year’s parliamentary elections, but opposed the latest opinion by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe over election rules of the head of the country’s Central Election Commission and its members. 

In his comments for the Georgian Public Broadcaster, the official pledged the race would be conducted with “utmost integrity” to “minimise any grounds for criticism”, pointing to recent “major changes” in the domestic legislation which he said had “directly impacted” election procedures. 

He stressed the procedures for election day had undergone “fundamental changes” with the introduction of use of electronic voting, and added “electronic registration of voters and electronic voting and counting processes are crucial innovations”. 

Kobakhidze further noted the amendments had addressed “longstanding issues” on election day, including human errors and unbalanced protocols, which he described as “persistent problems” over the past 30 years. 

He further alleged opponents were finding it “challenging to focus on election day” due to those “comprehensive changes” and were attempting to “shift their attention” to the campaign season. 

“The intense pre-election phase will span two months, essentially from September to October, with the election campaign likely heating up in July. We invite everyone to observe the elections, and if there are any complaints, they can be presented”, he said.

We commit to conducting the elections properly, minimising any substantial reasons for criticism. While we are ready to address any criticism, our responsibility is to ensure fair and competitive elections in the country”, the lawmaker added. 

In the other comment, Kobakhidze expressed opposition to “unprecedented and irrational regulation” recommended on Tuesday by the Venice Commission, which called for the election of non-partisan members and Chairperson of the CEC with a two-thirds parliamentary majority. 

Kobakhidze claimed electing the Chair and members of the body with a standard majority of 76 votes - as proposed by his party - was the “most rational procedure”. 

He stressed the current procedure, as outlined in the April 19, 2021 European Union-mediated agreement between the Government and the domestic opposition and reflected in the election code, was “absolutely irrational” and could hamper the proper functioning of the election body. 

He said while the Commission had provided a conclusion over the changes, the opinion was not legally based. 

We await additional arguments from the Venice Commission and the European Commission that would convince us of the unreasonable nature of the changes we have initiated”, Kobakhidze stated, and added "we need a legal opinion and are open to legal discussions”. 

GD annulled its signatory status to the April 19 agreement, which resolved a six-month political crisis in the country following the 2020 parliamentary elections through proposing electoral and judiciary reforms, in July of that year, following the refusal of the United National Movement - the latest opposition faction in the country - to join the deal mediated by Charles Michel, the European Council President.