A banner depicting “This Affects You Too” campaign logo seen as activists speak at a presentation in Courtyard Marriott hotel in Tbilisi, February 16.
Election watchdog and legal advocacy groups, joined by some media outlets, have launched a campaign aimed at convincing lawmakers to revise controversial election-related legislative amendments passed by the Parliament in late December.
To highlight one of their concerns that restrictions set by legislative amendments, including those to the law on political parties and their funding, may apply to broad circle of organizations and individuals, the campaign has been named by the groups as “This Affects You Too”.
Election observer, legal advocacy and watchdog groups, among them Georgian Young Lawyers Association; Transparency International Georgia; International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, as well as some media outlets, including weekly magazine Liberali, are in the forefront of the campaign, supported by the Open Society Georgia Foundation.
The groups say, that the legislative amendment, which tightens party funding rules and also applies restrictions set for parties to organizations or individuals “directly or indirectly” related with political parties, “will have a restrictive effect on civil-political activities.” The groups also say that «the ambiguous and extensive nature of norms» creates a risk of selective application of its provisions. The groups are also concerned about imposing criminal liability for accepting inducements, involving money or any other kind of benefits, for the political purposes; this provision in the criminal code applies to the cases if a person accepts such inducements knowingly.
The same concerns were echoed in remarks by UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, who said after wrapping up his eight-day visit to Georgia on February 13, that legislative amendments passed in late December «create an uneven political playing field».
The ruling party lawmakers and senior officials argue, that the only purpose of legislative amendments in question is to prevent political bribery; they also say that these amendments also aimed filling loopholes in legislature in order to prevent a situation wherein “large finances will have disproportionately huge influence on democratic processes”.
When debating on the issue officials always stress on the provision of the amended law on political parties, which says that restrictions envisaged by that law cannot be used against freedom of expression and civil engagement.
Commenting on political party funding legislation, U.S. ambassador to Georgia, John Bass, said on February 14: “I think, clearly from the public reaction, there is a concern about aspects of that legislation”.
“I am aware of a provision in that legislation, which explicitly says that it [the legislation] cannot be used to infringe on freedom of speech or political activity. Clearly some organizations in Georgia are still concerned, notwithstanding that provision. I think it’s important that there be, in the process of enforcing that legislation, a process of clarifying exactly what the rules are so that everyone is clear on their respective responsibilities,” the U.S. ambassador said.
He also reiterated the U.S. strong commitment to helping Georgia in having “a very competitive campaign… and the freest, fairest possible elections that hopefully result in a parliament that broadly reflects the spread of opinion and prospective across Georgian society.”
On February 16 the groups behind the campaign, This Affects You Too, launched collection of signatures to a petition calling on the Parliament to revise the controversial legislative amendments. As part of the campaign, the groups behind it launched a Facebook page and plan a website dedicated to the issue. The groups plan to submit the petition to the Parliament on February 17, accompanied by a rally outside the legislative body.
The petition reads, that election-related legislative amendments passed in December are “unacceptable, as they: limit civic activity, property rights, freedom of expression and political activity; impede the democratic development of the country; impose severe and unjustified responsibilities on the voters; assign unlimited and unconstitutional powers to the Chamber of Control of Georgia, who is the main regulator of party funding in Georgia; pose grave threats to both citizens and civil society, including the media; deteriorate the election environment within the country.”