Professional electoral administration for free and fair elections in Georgia.
Georgia has conducted twenty six elections since 1990. Six times Georgian citizens have casted ballots for the president of the country, eight times – for the members of the parliament. Eight elections were for selecting the composition of the Ajara Supreme Council, four times of the local self-governance entities (Source: Central Electoral Commission of Georgia).
The 24 year history of elections remains one of the controversial aspects of the Georgian political life. The process had its ups and downs – one of latter being the massive election fraud in 2003 which triggered the Rose Revolution. Now and then, some of the persistent problems included the inconsistent lists, the use of the administrative resources, ballot stuffing and the intimidation of voters.
Challenges on the road to free and fair elections in Georgia have been under constant attention of international organizations, among them of the European Union and the United Nations Development Programme that have been assisting electoral processes in Georgia since 2003.
This manifold support tackled major areas of electoral process: capacities of electoral actors; improvement of the electoral legislation; support of the local media to ensure balanced and comprehensive reporting; encouragement of voters to make informed decisions with the special focus on the vulnerable.
One of the cornerstones of the EU/UNDP assistance is development of the qualified electoral administration which prior, during and after Election Day will manage the electoral process professionally.
The BRIDGE – a professional training programme on electoral processes – is one component of such integrated approach. Being a valuable tool for improving the quality of elections, it equips the national administrations as well as other electoral actors with necessary skills to direct the process in a professional manner.
In Georgia, the BRIDGE methodology was introduced in 2003 and since then members of electoral administration, as well as the other electoral actors – national observers, political parties and the media, received training in election administration and procedures.
The Chair of the Central Electoral Commission of Georgia, Tamar Zhvania, is one of the best BRIDGE trainers in Georgia herself. She was appointed to head the electoral administration right before the presidential polls in 2013 after having spent more than seven years with UNDP leading the election assistance programme.
“The BRIDGE is the basis of a strong and stable electoral culture; it promotes internationally accepted good practices, improves the skills and abilities of all participants of the process – election administrations, media, observers and political parties,” Tamar Zhvania says.
In 2010, the Central Electoral Commission established the Centre of Electoral Systems Development, Reforms and Trainings which provides learning and consultation to electoral administration and other electoral stakeholders. The EU/UNDP assistance focuses on the sustainable capacity building of the Centre, including through delivery of high quality BRIDGE sessions by qualified trainers. Thus, among others, EU/UNDP support increased the capacity of the Centre in delivering BRIDGE training for various electoral actors.
During the latest workshop in November 2013, representatives of local observer organizations and the Central Electoral Commission discussed international standards of elections, use of technology and challenges of observation, ethical conduct of observers and dilemmas of election observation.
The participants described the training session as timely and effective, especially in view of the coming local governance elections in 2014. Members of the observer organizations particularly noted innovative techniques of election assessment and a new format of observation reports.
As for any country, elections play vital role in Georgia. The state of democracy is often assessed based on how the country conducts its elections. According to the Statement of the International Election Observation Mission to Georgia, the 2013 presidential election was “efficiently administered, transparent and took place in an amicable and constructive environment”.
Professional performance of the electoral administration contributed greatly to this positive assessment.
The international support will continue throughout 2014 when Georgia will face local self-governance elections, another milestone on the way to mature democracy.