Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe:
U.S. Helsinki Commission
Democratization in the Caucasus:
Elections in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia
Tom de Waal,
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Dr. Cory Welt,
Institute for European, Russian and
Eurasian Studies, George Washington University
Vice President for Strategy and Analysis,
Stephen B. Nix,
Regional Director for Eurasia,
International Republican Institute (IRI)
Program Manager for Caucasus and Central Asia,
International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)
The Hearing Was Held From 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. in 334 Cannon House Office
Building, Washington, D.C., Mark S. Milosch, Staff Director, Helsinki
Date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Federal News Service
MARK S. MILOSCH: Good afternoon, and welcome to everyone joining us today for
this – for this briefing on –
MR. MILOSCH: One moment, excuse me.
MR. MILOSCH: Good afternoon, and welcome to everyone joining us today for this
briefing on this year’s and next year’s elections in Armenia, Azerbaijan and
Georgia. As Chairman Smith’s staff director at the Helsinki Commission, I’ll
make a brief statement. And then Dr. Michael Ochs, policy adviser at the
Helsinki Commission, will introduce our panelists and moderate the discussion.
Last December the commission held a briefing that looked at unresolved
conflicts in the Caucasus. Now we turn our attention to elections in the
Caucasus. The latest electoral cycle began in Armenia, which held
parliamentary elections on May 6. Georgia’s parliamentary elections are
scheduled for October. In 2013 Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia will all hold
These exercises in participatory democracy are intended to serve as a gauge of
public opinion and provide a mandate for governing. But elections in the
region have been deeply flawed the past and may be a given – and may be again,
given political polarization and problematic government-opposition relations in
all three countries, which have been marked by mutual distrust and even strong
In the Armenian election three weeks ago, perhaps the most important thing is
what did not happen. Unlike the presidential election of 2008, there was,
thankfully, no violence. The ruling party retained its dominant position, and
once again the opposition claimed fraud. The OSCE, while noting various
improvements, expressed concern about continuing problems.
In Azerbaijan elections have not met OSCE standards, and the last parliamentary
election produced a legislature with almost no opposition representation. The
authorities and opposition have been contending for years about the election
law. We will have an opportunity today – and even though the next election is
still more than a year away – to get a sense of where things stand and whether
anything can be done to help create a level playing field that would promote
In Georgia the government and opposition have long been negotiating about the
election law and voting procedures. It will come as no surprise to anyone in
this audience that the upcoming Georgian election has received unusual
attention, including in the mainstream U.S. media. Today we hope to get a
readout from our panel on the state of play several months before the October
Although we are going to be examining the three Caucasus countries today, I
want to indicate at the outset that it is not our intention to compare them to
each other. Insofar as we make comparisons, each should be measured against
the international human rights agreements and OSCE commitments which they have
Finally, elections are obviously a reflection of the overall state of democracy
in any given country. I trust our panelists, who have a great deal of
experience in the region under discussion, will elaborate on progress toward
democratization, or rather in so many respects the lack of progress in Armenia,
Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Since we’re looking at three countries with a complicated political
environment, we’ve invited a panel of regional experts and leading U.S. NGOs
working with political parties and elections.
Before turning our – to our witnesses, I would like to note that next week
Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia will celebrate independence or republic days.
So I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate all three countries on
this happy anniversary and to wish them the best.
Now I’ll turn the briefing over to Michael Ochs, who as I mentioned is the
policy adviser at the commission who covers the Caucasus. Michael will
introduce the panel and moderate it.
MICHAEL OCHS: Thank you, Mark.
I’m going to give brief introductions of our witnesses. Their full bios are on
the Helsinki Commission website. And we’re going to do this alphabetically, so
we’ll be starting with Anthony Bowyer, who is the program manager for the
Caucasus and Central Asia at IFES, the International Foundation for Election
(sic; Electoral) Systems.
Anthony has more than 17 years of experience in designing and managing election
assistance, civil society, civic education and political party development
programs in the South Caucasus and Central Asia. He’s worked extensively with
political leaders, election officials, members of parliament, political party
and civil society representatives, academics and students. He’s also offered
papers on parliament and political parties in Kazakhstan and Islamic movements
and democracy in Central Asia.
Our next speaker will be Stephen B. Nix, who’s the regional director for
Eurasia at the International Republican Institute or IRI. Stephen joined IRI
in October 2000 as regional director. He oversees programs on Belarus,
Georgia, Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine. Previously he had
served for two years as senior democracy specialist at USAID, and lived in Kiev
for more than three years, where he was a legal counselor for IFES and also
served as the outside legal counsel for the Committee on Legal Reform in the
Ukrainian parliament. I’d like to note also that Steve testified for us just
last week on Ukraine, so he’s really doing yeoman’s service, and many thanks to
MR.: (Inaudible) – he came back.
MR. OCHS: (Chuckles.) Next we have Thomas de Waal, who is a senior associate
at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He’s a well-known
specialist on the Caucasus. He’s the author most recently of “The Caucasus:
An Introduction,” published by Oxford University Press. He may be best known,
however, for his authoritative book on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, called
“Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War,” which has been
translated into Russian, Armenian and Azerbaijani. Previously he was a
reporter and foreign correspondent; worked for the BBC World Service and also
the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and Conciliation Services.
Next we have Christopher Walker, who’s vice president for strategy and analysis
at Freedom House, where he oversees a team of analysts and senior scholars in
devising overall strategy for Freedom House’s analytical projects, including
Nations in Transit, Democratization in East Central Europe and Eurasia, Freedom
of the Press, a Global Survey of Media Independence, and Freedom on the Net: A
Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media. In addition, he’s been widely
published and previously was a senior associate at the EastWest Institute and
is currently an adjunct professor of global affairs at New York University.
Finally we have Dr. Cory Welt, who’s the associate director and professorial
lecturer at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George
Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and an adjunct
fellow at the Center for American Progress. He’s published widely on Caucasus
politics and security in journals like Journal of Democracy, Journal of
Post-Soviet Democratization, Nonproliferation Review, et cetera. Previously he
was the associate director and director of the Eurasian Strategy Project at
Georgetown, where he was also an assistant adjunct professor in the School of
Foreign Service, and was also the deputy director and fellow of the Russia and
Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS.
It’s a stellar cast, and we’re looking forward to hearing what they have to
say. We will start with Anthony.
ANTHONY BOWYER: Thank you, Michael.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, members and staff of the Helsinki
Commission. My name is Anthony Bowyer, and I am program manager for the
Caucasus and Central Asia at the International Foundation for Electoral
Systems, also known as IFES. It is a pleasure to be here today, and I would
like to thank the commission for the opportunity to share some thoughts on
democracy in the South Caucasus. And I would ask that this statement and other
IFES materials submitted to the commission be included in the record.
IFES is a global leader in democracy promotion. We advance good governance and
democratic rights by providing technical assistance to election officials,
empowering the under-represented to participate in the political process and
applying a field-based research. Since 1987 IFES has worked in 135 countries
ranging from developing to mature democracies.
I would like to present a few remarks on the election cycle and the broader
issue of democracy in the three South Caucasus countries in terms of the
perceived need for regime legitimacy. While I would agree that one needs to
consider the election cycle not in a vacuum but as part of a broader political
process in each country, the elections nevertheless provide a snapshot of where
they are on the scale of democracy development and where I believe they are
going. I also believe that the desire to democratize and promote inclusiveness
and competition in the political realm is conditioned by several factors and
revolves around the need for the respective governments to legitimize
themselves both internally and externally.
Part of this is to engage a skeptical if not cynical public, which has become
disillusioned with the elections and through which the countries would benefit
from a more open process as evidence of their commitment to reform. Another
factor is the need to exhibit to outside states and current or potential,
mainly Western, allies that they are reliable democratic partners. However,
the impetus in doing so may certainly bear elements of economic and/or security
motivations as well.
Armenia, for example, from whence I just returned to observe the National
Assembly elections and participate in a democracy assistance project, was
concerned over how the elections to the National Assembly were perceived – were
perceived at home and abroad. I can say that the process was open and
reasonably competitive. And as the first national election since the crackdown
following the February 2008 presidential vote, there was heightened sensitivity
to public perceptions of the process.
The mechanics of the elections are important. And this was, as well, the first
national election held under the new election code and administered by a new
Central Election Commission. And indeed, while the results of the voting did
yield gains for the ruling coalition, there were positive trends to mention as
well, including this arguably being the most transparent election in the
country’s history and with members of political parties occupying seats on
precinct election commissions, with large numbers of party proxies and domestic
observers present at every polling station.
While there were certainly errors made during the voting process and the vote
count, it should be pointed out that that 70 percent of the precinct election
commissioners were new. And this is not unlike what happened in the Kyrgyz
Republic during its most recent parliamentary elections, and I would add
presidential, in two Octobers previously, which was also an open and at times
chaotic process, but one that rightly drew the accolades of the international
But as I suspect my colleagues will agree, there are deeply rooted problems in
Armenia that reinforce public cynicism and disillusionment. This has to do
with the decline of political and electoral culture in the country, and the
public which has come to tolerate the buying and selling of votes, and the
notion, particularly in the regions of the country, that elections are a
moneymaking enterprise. There is no overnight fix for this. And low
incentives to report incidences of the occurrence of vote-buying. And
elections in Armenia will never be perceived as entirely valid or legitimate
until this ugly truth is confronted head-on by all political parties, in
particular the ruling coalition.
While the National Assembly elections were important, the 2013 presidential
election looms large for the country, in particular for President Sarkissian to
seek the legitimacy that some suggested he did not receive after the 2008 vote
– or deserve. And the conduct of the upcoming vote will serve both as a
barometer of the government’s pledge to conduct open elections and as a
measuring stick for national healing and repair of the country’s political and
Georgia is a case where the legitimate evolution of the political and electoral
process has been ongoing for some time already, with this October’s
parliamentary vote and especially the 2013 presidential vote serving as key
benchmarks in that process. Though at times the process of reform in Georgia
has been labored and the commitment of the government questioned, the Georgians
have engaged deeply with all electoral stakeholders in the country, as well as
with members of the international community – (inaudible) – even – to create an
even playing field. And there is ample evidence of this in the degrees of
cooperation on issues ranging from voter registration upgrades to campaign
finance reform and enforcement.
This openness is being put to the test presently in the case of billionaire
oppositionist Bidzina Ivanishvili and his newly registered political party,
Georgian Dream, which represents, I believe, a clear and present danger for the
United National Movement. But given Georgia’s precarious security situation in
a growing but still fragile economy, the country has much at stake in ensuring
a credible, legitimate electoral process, one in which the United National
Movement, like any ruling party, will campaign hard to prevail in.
But the margin of error is smaller for the UNM than it was for the ruling
Republican Party in Armenia. Expectations are higher in Georgia and of the
Georgian citizens themselves to take the next steps and demonstrate a
commitment to European-style electoral democracy. But for its part, the
government of Georgia and the UNM has much more to lose in terms of credibility
if heavy-handed tactics during the elections are employed. And it must come to
terms with the very real possibility that a significant parliamentary
opposition may emerge as a result of the October vote. This should be seen,
though, as a net positive, in my view. It is incumbent on the part of what
could be the leading opposition voice, Georgian Dream, to be realistic about
its own prospects and to not get caught up in a zero-sum argument with the UNM.
Perhaps even more so than Armenia, the upcoming elections in Georgia will serve
as a demonstration of how that country – how far that country has come in its
democratic development, not necessarily in terms of individual results but in
terms of the process that precedes the vote and how all aspects of the voting
experience – in particular, the dispute resolution process – is handled. The
stakes are high in Georgia. While the state’s desire for legitimacy by the
international community and domestic entities is exceptionally high, so too is
the measuring bar. And it remains to be seen whether the country will, in
fact, live up to its own high expectations.
On the extreme other end of the spectrum, Azerbaijan remains a case in which
the government’s perception of the need to legitimize its rule is not
particularly high. With revenues from oil production still flowing into state
coffers, the country feels slightly more secure in maintaining far stricter
control over the political process, not unlike the experience of Kazakhstan and
its recent election cycle.
This is not to say that people are happy with the election process in Armenia
(sic). Quite the opposite, in fact. The lack of political freedom in the
country and the restrictions on opposition activities and control of the media
remain high, and expectations at this point in time are low for a competitive
and vibrant election cycle next year when voters will elect a president of the
But even in Azerbaijan, the details of the election process are important and
should not be entirely dismissed. While the political will may be lacking,
there are areas in which reforms have taken place that, when change eventually
comes, will serve as important elements of trust-building and confidence by
voters that their voices can hopefully be heard.
As I was reminded recently, there is an expression in Georgia – pardon me, in
Azerbaijan – that one drop after another will make a lake; while those drops at
present may not seem much more than a puddle, at this point the door is open,
perhaps slightly, nevertheless, to encourage continued reform of the election
system and best practices.
Until real political will and a genuine desire and need to create legitimacy in
the political process emerges, however, based on internal demands and – or
external necessity, Azerbaijan remains behind its Caucasus neighbors, far
behind, in many respects, in terms of democratic development.
I believe that all of the countries are affected to varying degrees by official
corruption and spoiling of their political and electoral culture, which has
been forged over many years now, and which has become to be accepted as a
byproduct of participatory democracy. As much as the governments of the region
need to be continued and encouraged to liberalize and do so genuinely, which
may lessen the dominant control of the ruling elite but serve as an enhancer of
overall legitimacy to its citizens, the need to combat a largely apathetic and
cynical electorate in each country requires a deeper commitment that will
continue to take time, honest effort and unrequited dedication.
The international community, led by the United States, and working through
U.S.-funded democracy assistance providers, needs to continue, even in lean
budget times, to encourage best practices and work with governmental as well as
nongovernmental actors in a policy of strategic engagement. U.S. government
policy has been and should continue to be in the lead in holding our Caucasus
allies accountable and encouraging them to fulfill the obligations to
democratic development to which they have repeatedly pledged their commitment.
In conclusion, let me say that U.S.-funded democracy assistance is impactful,
but its absence – or removal, in some cases – has and would have a deleterious
effect on the process of accountability and democratic reform across the
region. International assistance is needed to preserve and advance significant
reform, progress made so far in Georgia, and to a lesser though important
degree in Armenia, plus renew engagement with Azerbaijan, and to utilize
momentum to continue with democratization initiatives. Media monitoring,
international observation and providing support to local watchdog civil society
organizations is essential to the transparency of the electoral process and the
greater process of – and task of democracy-building. While the present
situation in each of the countries is far from ideal on the whole, the
opportunity to continue pushing the countries to honor their obligations to
democracy is both genuine and vital.
Thank you very much for your time and attention.
MR. OCHS: Thank you.
STEPHEN NIX: First of all, thank you, Michael, for this opportunity. It’s a
real honor to again appear before the commission. And our thanks go out to the
commission for convening this event on a very important part of the world.
It’s important to America’s strategic interests what takes place, particular in
the area of democracy in the Caucasus. I’ll focus my remarks today on Georgia,
and I’ll go into some detail. I would ask that my remarks be entered into the
Ladies and gentlemen, the next year and a half will be critical for Georgia's
democratic development. Since the snap elections in 2008, the Georgian
government has made significant steps forward in securing the legitimacy of
their elections. In October 2010 parliament adopted a slate of constitutional
reforms designed to realign the system of government away from a presidential
system and towards a parliamentary one. These reforms will take place
following the presidential election in 2013. A new election code was adopted
in December 2011 and went into effect in early 2012 in order to provide
sufficient time for all parties to adapt to the new regulations.
Unlike the snap elections in 2008, these elections occur in the natural
election cycle. This means, again, political parties, and in particular
opposition parties, have had time to prepare. And parties have been actively
preparing. In the last two years opposition parties have been active in the
regions on an unprecedented scale. Parties like the Christian Democratic
Movement have greatly increased their activities in the regions. Other
parties, most notably the Free Democrats and the Republicans, now part of the
Georgian Dream coalition, have done the same.
IRI is cognizant of this dynamic and has been actively working with all major
political parties to train their activists in advance of the elections. This
is especially important because interest in these elections remains very high.
The most recent IRI poll conducted in Georgia indicates that 89 percent of
voters, of citizens, say they will turn out to vote on election day.
With these stakes in mind, I’d like to focus on some positive steps that have
been taken in the electoral process, I’d like to point out some areas of
concern, and then finally, I would like to discuss some recommendations as to
next steps for all interested parties.
With regard to positive developments, in November 2011 President Saakashvili
signed a decree to set up a 21-member Voter List Verification Commission. The
commission is multipartisan. It’s opposition-chaired and includes seven
representatives each from UNM, opposition parties and Georgian NGOs.
To address some of the potential violations during the pre-election period, the
Georgian government announced that it would establish an interagency task force
for free and fair elections. The task force will be chaired by the secretary
of the National Security Council, and its membership will be comprised of
representatives of various government ministries. The group will be charged
with fostering coordination among government agencies and promoting dialogue
between the government and all shareholders in the election process.
Another positive change is the new method of awarding party list seats to
political parties that cross the 5 percent threshold. Under the old system,
barely crossing the threshold only ensured receipt of one to two seats in
parliament. Under the new system, any party that gains the minimum 5 percent
will be automatically granted six seats. This will be enough for individual
parties to form their own factions within parliament.
There are several areas of concern underlying all the progress that I’ve just
Regarding the general election process, there are concerns that the election
code did not go far enough to address issues that were set forth by the Venice
Commission and others. One of the primary criticisms has been the inequality
in size of election districts. In some rural areas, parliamentary districts
can be as small as 6,000 constituents, while large Tbilisi districts can be as
large as 150,000 constituents. Though the new election code did consolidate
several smaller districts, it still did not address the larger problem by
realigning parliamentary districts nationwide. This continued inequality in
size of districts perpetuates a perception that not every vote is equal.
In December 2011 the parliament adopted a new law regarding the funding of
political parties. Although the restrictions were only supposed to be applied
prospectively, the newly created Chamber of Control of Georgia began
investigating several organizations based on events that took place as long as
many years ago.
Another prospective issue of concern is the degree to which Georgian opposition
parties will be able to campaign freely in the coming months. There have been
reports that opposition, constituent meetings and activities have been met with
resistance from local leadership. With elections only a few months away, the
government in Tbilisi must move swiftly and make it absolutely clear that such
repression is to be neither permitted nor tolerated in a campaign environment.
Now, I would like conclude with some recommendations for next steps.
First, it’s of paramount importance that events on election day are considered
to be free, fair and transparent. However, it’s vital that the entire election
campaign also meet international standards. In the past a good election day
has frequently been considered sufficient, but the United States and Europe
would be remiss to allow such a standard this time. With the emergence of a
third major political force, this election will no doubt be highly contested
nationwide. Governments and international organizations, both here and Europe,
must be as vigilant and proactive during the pre-election campaign period as
they are on election day.
For their part, the Georgian government must maintain a fair and even-handed
election environment. The government has repeatedly spoken of a desire to have
fair elections and to allow all parties the opportunity to campaign and
mobilize their followers. These words must be matched with deeds. Finally,
there must be a clearly demonstrated commitment on the part of the Central
Election Commission and the judiciary to effectively address complaints and
appeals fairly and well before election day.
Georgian political parties have their own responsibilities. A party that is
focused on what will happen if they lose cannot, by necessity, be entirely
focused on winning. Georgian elections have rarely been lost gracefully, but
regardless of who emerges victorious in October, that is the only way for the
process to continue moving forward.
Finally, there is an especially large burden on the international community
this time around. The government and the opposition have expressly requested
the presence of international observers for both long-term and short-term
observation, and the United States and Europe must respond accordingly.
Thank you, and I’ll be available to answer any questions you might have. Thank
you very much.
MR. OCHS: Thank you, Steve. Tom?
THOMAS DE WAAL: Thank you, Michael. And I’d also like to begin by thanking
the Helsinki Commission for inviting me to this briefing today.
I just want to begin my remarks by stating my commitment to balance and
objectivity. I do have the mixed fortune of having a fairly high profile in
Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, and I try to use that status to be
constructively critical. Governments in particular can react badly to this,
but I hope they’re gradually learning that constructive criticism from Western
experts is a fact of life – even, I might say, a mark of respect – as they
aspire to join Euro-Atlantic structures.
I would summarize my view as being a kind of consensus view that in terms of
democracy, all three South Caucasus countries are, to a greater or lesser
degree, closer to the Russian model of a one-party state with “managed
democracy” than to the European democratic model. Within the spectrum,
Azerbaijan is the most authoritarian and Georgia the most democratic, with
Armenia somewhere in between. I would argue that this, in fact, has been the
case since the mid-1990s.
It’s important to stress that at home, none of the three governments make a
strong pitch to be – to emphasize their democratic credentials. If they talk
up their achievements to their own electorate, it’s generally in terms of
successful state-building, service provision, law and order, and so on. I
would add there have been indeed many successes in those fields, but that’s not
our discussions today. Conversations about democracy are more likely to take
place with foreign interlocutors or in foreign capitals at events like this one.
A system has developed which you might call a one-party system by consent
whereby the ruling party strives to govern with the consent of the governed,
but it is hard to conceive of a scenario in which the governing party gives up
power willingly. It is still hard to imagine even Georgia holding an election
as free as the one we saw, for example, in Serbia last weekend, where the
favorite incumbent candidate was unseated by an opposition challenge. In fact,
since independence we have not seen a single election in Armenia, Azerbaijan,
or Georgia over the last 20 years in which an incumbent has lost power or the
governing party has lost its majority in parliament. Ironically, the freest
elections in these countries in recent times happened right at the end of the
Soviet era in 1990 and 1991.
Elections are important and they provide a kind of health check on the state of
democracy in these countries. The coming elections in Georgia are an
especially big test for that country. They’re the most important elections
since 2003, and how they go will in many ways define the next phase of
But I also want to make the point here that we should not focus too exclusively
on elections. We are seeing a positive phenomenon whereby electoral campaigns
are being conducted much more cleanly, but this masks the fact that we are
seeing a brief democratic improvement for a couple of months after several
years of a much more restrictive environment.
There is a bigger systemic issue here about creating a more pluralistic
environment, where different parts of society feel they have a stake in the
political process. The issue is not about hoping to see government replaced
with opposition. If they were able to take power, many opposition parties in
these countries would, I believe, replicate the same system with themselves at
the center. The issue is about widening the whole political space.
In the brief time remaining, I want to highlight two systemic issues which I
think it’s worth outsiders focusing on. The first is that in all three
countries there is a big gap between what happens in the capital and in the
rest of the country. In Azerbaijan, there is a huge difference between the
situation in Baku, where it’s still possible to hold meetings on controversial
issues and publish opposition newspapers, and a place like Nakhichevan, where
almost no civic activity is tolerated at all. In Armenia again, there is a
fairly lively political culture in Yerevan, but a much more oppressive
environment in the regions.
The sharpest differences may be in Georgia. Tbilisi is in many ways comparable
to a free and democratic Central European capital, but there is a very
different situation in the provinces. Opposition activists routinely complain
of harassment, and we’ve heard about the chamber of control. And there is
strong pressure to vote for the governing party at election time. You see this
starkly in visual terms. If you go out to the villages of Georgia, you see
everywhere the number 5 painted as a graffito on walls and public buildings.
This is the number on the ballot that the governing party, the United National
Movement, had in the last election and is entitled to have again. So I would
argue that as outsiders who want to promote democratic standards here, we need
different strategies for the capital and the regions.
The other issue I want to draw attention to is the state of the media, which I
think is by any means a long way short of European standards. The media and in
particular television, which is the overwhelmingly dominant medium of news
coverage, shape the political narrative in favor of the governing
administration. This is a subject dear to me, as I worked for many years for
an NGO, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, supporting independent
journalists in the Caucasus. My – on my visits to the region, I see my former
colleagues and the huge problems they face.
We’ll hear for a moment from Chris Walker, but suffice it to say that in
Freedom House's recent Global Press Freedom table for 2012, out of 197
countries, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia all came in the bottom half of the
rankings. Armenia was in 149th place, a rank above Angola and one below
Pakistan. Azerbaijan was in 172nd place, alongside Russia and Zimbabwe.
Georgia improved on its position from last year, but was still in 111th place
out of 197 countries, on equal footing with Bangladesh, Kenya, and Mauritania.
In Armenia, it’s a case of one step forward, one step back in the media. The
OSCE gave a fairly positive verdict on political parties’ access to television
coverage in the recent election in its report. But pro-government TV channels
still dominate the airwaves. The independent channel A1+ is still off the air,
and another independent channel, Gala in Gyumri, has faced persistent problems.
There appear to be fewer cases of physical violence against journalists, but
there has been a big increase in lawsuits by politicians against opposition
newspapers or news agencies. There were 37 libel cases in 2011; 30 of them are
ongoing. The investigative news website Hetq, H-A-E – H-E-T-Q, is the subject
of several of these cases. Given the state of the Armenian judiciary, there is
reason to be concerned that this has become an instrument of government
pressure on critical reporting.
In Azerbaijan, the media situation is particularly bad. Again, pro-government
television dominates the airwaves. Foreign radio stations, such as Radio
Liberty, lost their FM frequencies in 2008. It is a very difficult environment
to be an independent journalist, and there have been a number of disturbing
cases already this year. Two journalists from the regional television station
Xayal TV, Vugar Gonagov and Zaur Guliev, were detained in March in the town of
Quba and have not yet been released. Also in March, the investigative
journalist Khadija Ismail, who’s been researching government corruption, was
targeted with a blackmail attempt in connection with her private life. In
April, my former colleague Idrak Abbasov was savagely beaten by security guards
when investigating a story about property rights and deportations. Obviously
we hope all these cases will get probably – properly investigated.
Finally, in Georgia, the situation is definitely better, but there are still
many problems. Again television dominates the news market. There are
television channels with an opposition slant, such as Maestro which broadcasts
in Tbilisi, and the new Channel 9 funded by opposition leader Bidzina
Ivanishvili. But two pro-government channels, Rustavi-2 and Imedi, are by far
the richest, most watched, and most influential media outlets. They get around
90 percent of the advertising market, and every night they provide the
government with extremely favorable news coverage. A law was passed last year
by the Georgian parliament which has thrown light on the ownership of these two
channels. That is useful, but it has not thus far resulted in any changes in
the ownership structure of the channels.
But do we really know that the television news coverage is coordinated from
above of these channels? Well, in March this year, Transparency International
Georgia published an interesting little piece of research on a news story about
the death in police custody in the town of Khashuri of a man named Solomon
Kimeridze. Opposition activists alleged foul play, but the authorities denied
it. On the evening news on March 2nd, the three main channels in Georgia –
Rustavi-2, Imedi and the First Channel – all broadcast news reports saying that
the family of the dead man Mr. Kimeridze were irritated with the behavior of
opposition activists of Mr. Ivanishvili's coalition. Transparency
International showed that all three channels used almost identical language and
the same pictures in their news reports. And you can actually see a YouTube
video illustrating it. The conclusion from this is fairly clear.
In conclusion, I don't want to be a complete doomsayer about Armenia,
Azerbaijan, and Georgia. There are positive developments. But I do believe
that if we want to see more than just incremental change and a bigger change in
their political culture, we need to look at more than just the election
campaigns and focus on some of the more fundamental issues in the political
culture. Thank you, and I’ll be happy to answer questions.
MR. OCHS: Thank you, Tom.
We turn now to Chris Walker, Freedom House.
CHRIS WALKER: Thank you very much, Michael. Thank you, Michael, and thank you
to the commission also for inviting Freedom House to speak. We welcome this
opportunity. I won’t repeat the observations of the previous speakers. I
think they covered very eloquently and with great insight the questions
relating specifically to the election process. What I might do is build very
briefly on some of the observations that Tom de Waal made on the wider context
for elections in these countries. And I think Freedom House has grown to take
a very multidimensional look at these issues.
Freedom House is working both on the analytical and assessment side, as many of
you know, looking at issues of democratic accountability, media freedom,
political rights and civil liberties. We’re also working with civil society
and democratic reformers both within the region and beyond it and have been
doing this for many decades. I think what’s most striking about the countries
in question is that if you look at the country with the worst indicators on the
issues we’re looking at, which in this case is Azerbaijan, is that the election
process was already rather weak, going back several years ago, and has been
getting noticeably worse over the last several years.
When you look at both the mechanics of the election, the specific issues that
are really the bedrock of whether an election is run with meaningful
competition, openness and a plausible opportunity for a rotation of power with
a diverse range of political forces, that space has essentially evaporated, in
our view. So if you look at the mechanics, that’s already gone. But I think
more importantly and Tom de Waal, I think, got at this quite well, if you look
at the other supporting institutions that are really indispensable to
meaningful competition in the electoral context – independent media, judicial
independence – those have also shrunk demonstrably, in our view, in recent
years. And this is quite worrisome, and I’ll come back to this at the end of
my remarks, because if we look at broader regional and global trends, the
natural endpoint of systems that provide no meaningful space, no shock
absorbers, no cushions typically aren’t that positive. And that’s putting it
If we look at Armenia, I won’t go into much detail. Cory Welt is going to
speak in more detail on that country. But I think I would emphasize this issue
that while there’s a bit more space, in our view, for example, in the sphere of
civil society and in the media, looking at other countries in the region,
including Azerbaijan, I think what you find is this deep and seemingly
intractable relationship between money and politics and business interests and
the political class. And finding a way to systematically reform that
arrangement is very difficult to envision given the current set of
institutional circumstances there.
Finally, briefly on Georgia, you can look at the glass either half empty or
half full in Georgia’s case. I think if you look at the past five years where
you include both military conflict, domestic unrest and other factors that
contributed to tumult, which, by definition, impacted the performance of the
country on our indicators, it’s been far more stable in the last two years and
in some areas we’ve seen some modest progress. But I think what I would
emphasize in Georgia’s case is that by our – (inaudible) – and all of the
reviews we do, it’s a middle performer, which means it provides some but not
all of the safeguards and guarantees that we would look for in a democratically
So on the one hand, one could well envision several years hence with the wrong
sort of decisions made by political elites and the wrong sort of inducements
provided by external actors, that Georgia could be performing worse on our
indicators. By the same token, with the right sort of decisions, a more
inclusive approach, a more ennobling sense of how politics should work in the
country by the dominant leadership there, it’s also rather plausible to imagine
better performance on our indicators.
And seeing the country move from what’s now the partly free category where you
find Georgia, which distinguishes it from virtually all of the non-Baltic
former Soviet Union save Moldova and Ukraine, which is a separate questions –
it’s in that category, but heading in the wrong direction at the moment – you
could well imagine Georgia moving in a positive direction with much more
positive outcomes if political elites in society at large make the right sort
of choices and agree on a more tolerant and inclusive way of approaching
In the larger picture, to come back to the point of the tendencies and the
tantalizing – seemingly tantalizing prospects for political leadership in the
region to shrink space for civil society, for the judiciary, for political
opposition, I would emphasize the point that this is a fraught choice. There
may be reasons historically, culturally and otherwise for leadership to make
this choice. But I think if the events of the last 18 months tell us anything,
it’s when political leadership outweighs its welcome and when society signals a
desire for reform and liberalization, we can all anticipate even greater
And I think this is something we should bear in mind when we make the
calculation on where to put some of the important – clearly and undeniably
important issues of economic and military security up against the longer-term
strategic, difficult work of ensuring and encouraging democratically
accountable institutions in all of the countries we’re discussing, both in the
Caucasus and the wider region. And I’ll leave it at that. Thank you.
MR. OCHS: Thank you, Chris. We’ll end this section of this – of this part of
the briefing with Cory Welt.
CORY WELT: Thank you, Michael, and to the Helsinki Commission for convening
this briefing. I appreciate the opportunity to join this distinguished group
of panelists. As the last member of this distinguished group of panelists, I
hope you forgive me if I reinforce certain points, but also inject some new
elements into the discussion. I first will make some observations relevant to
all three states and then address some issues specific to Armenia's
parliamentary elections earlier this month and Georgia's upcoming parliamentary
elections in October and conclude with a brief comment on Azerbaijan.
My first point is a point that Tom de Waal has made, that leaving out the
earliest years of transition from Soviet power, elections in the Caucasus have
yet to serve their basic democratic function of transferring power from one
political party to another. Where an incumbent team has lost power, which
really arguably only happened in the case of Georgia's rose revolution, it did
so outside a normal electoral process.
Second, in all three states, elections have still not produced a viable
multiparty democratic system, in which opposition political parties have enough
of a presence in parliament to serve as a check on authorities or to
realistically position themselves as governments-in-waiting. All three states
still operate very much within the paradigm of a party of power rather than a
modern democratic paradigm of parties that alternate power.
Third, problems with the electoral process, at this point, are less related to
the mechanics of voting day – another point that several of our panelists have
made – than to the overwhelming power advantages with which authorities are
able to control or at least greatly influence the country's overall political
climate – in other words, the gamut of so-called administrative resources, the
broad and frequently illegal use of government finances and officials for
Fourth, governments in all three states have utilized particular electoral
systems to shore up their rule. A long-running debate focuses on the benefits
and drawbacks of proportional versus majoritarian electoral systems for the
construction of multiparty democracy. But in the Caucasus, the conclusion has
been clear: The more majoritarian seats there have been in parliament, the
better it has been consistently for the party in power. Particularly in
Armenia and Georgia, mixed systems with majoritarian components have repeatedly
led to substantially greater ruling-party representation than there would have
been in strictly party-list systems.
As a result of these considerations and others, elections in the three states
have tended to reinforce or at least not weaken the power of those in power in
ways that fall short of normal democratic practice. This may be inherently
problematic. But furthermore, the hesitation to fully embrace democracy in all
three states really constitutes, I would argue, the main domestic barrier to
these states’ closer identification with the Euro-Atlantic community to which
they all, to varying degrees, aspire. Bureaucratic modernization and security
cooperation may be necessary conditions for continued integration with the
West, but so too is multiparty democracy, in which political transition is a
normal and expected feature of politics.
I will now make a few specific remarks on Armenia and Georgia. Of the three
states in the Caucasus, Armenia has had the most complex electoral evolution in
its independent history. One distinctive characteristic has been the
relatively low popularity voting-wise of the ruling Republican Party, which has
maintained power through shifting coalitions with a handful of other parties.
The main difference in this last round of elections is that two out of three of
the government’s past coalition partners could no longer be relied upon to join
A second difference is that one of these two, Prosperous Armenia, led by
oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan, emerged as a full-blooded contender to the ruling
Republican Party, ultimately winning 30 percent of the vote to the ruling
party’s 44 percent. This is the largest second-place electoral finish in
Armenian history. Whether this outcome constitutes grounds for optimism about
Armenian democracy, however, is open for question.
Some see the rise of a division in the ruling elite into politically and
economically autonomous factions as a positive precondition for democracy. But
are there still a number of reasons for caution. First, let’s keep in mind
that the official election results handed the ruling Republican Party its most
successful election ever. Its share of the party-list vote went from 24
percent in 2003 to 34 percent in ’07 to the 44 percent of today. The ruling
party also increased its total seat count, including via a greater number of
victories in majoritarian races.
Second, as of a few hours ago at least, it’s highly likely that Prosperous
Armenia will again join the ruling coalition and again support the incumbent
president when he campaigns for re-election next year.
Third, even if Prosperous Armenia enters opposition, the ruling party has more
than sufficient numbers to govern without it.
Fourth, if Tsarukyan himself were to run for president next year and win, it is
not clear whether or how he would govern any differently or preside over the
transformation of Armenia's political system.
Fifth, parties considered to be more committed to democracy building, the
Armenian National Congress and Heritage, came in third and fourth place, but
with only a combined count of 13 percent and without any majoritarian deputies.
In the end, we are left in Armenia with the unsatisfying need to rely on either
an intra-elite power struggle or the ruling party’s foresight as the basis for
a future consolidation of democracy.
Of the three states, Georgia has gone the furthest to enable a pluralistic
electoral environment. In particular, I’d like to highlight the high level of
public discussion and debate that has been mentioned before, which has led to
improved laws on elections and campaign finance, as well as to profound
constitutional changes that tilt Georgia toward a more parliamentary system of
governance. Opposition parties and civil society organizations have been fully
empowered to participate in the crafting of these institutional reforms, and
many of them have done so. I would also note the dramatic decline overall in
reported levels of corruption in the country and the steady rise of independent
All this said, Georgia still faces a number of serious challenges in
democratizing its electoral environment. These challenges less concern
election day itself than the overall political context. They include the
following: First, ownership of the two leading national private television
channels, which are the main source of news for most of Georgia's population,
was long ago transferred to government loyalists. Until the end of last year,
this fact was formally hidden by nontransparent ownership schemes, which have
since been made illegal.
Second, despite new legislation banning the use of administrative resources,
reports of bribery, intimidation and reprisal allegedly designed to affect
citizens’ political behavior remain frequent, as mentioned, especially outside
the capital city of Tbilisi.
Third, laws continue to be selectively applied and even selectively created for
seemingly political purposes rather than for providing an objective context for
the political process. Georgia's parliament did not see the need for more
stringent campaign finance laws until there arose a political opposition that
had the potential to outspend the ruling party. Another example is the
application of Georgia’s citizenship law to Bidzina Ivanishvili, head of the
Georgian Dream. His loss of citizenship, granted several years ago by
presidential fiat, may have been legal, but nonetheless highly selective and
curiously inflexible in its implementation.
Fourth, government officials regularly cast Georgian domestic politics as an
integral element of the heavily charged Russian-Georgian conflict. They appear
to do this as an act of delegitimization, in particular accusing opposition
figures without foundation of directly working for Russian interests to the
detriment of Georgia's own.
And fifth and finally, I would like to highlight one major overlooked
deficiency of Georgia’s current transition to a more parliamentary system of
governance. This is the incongruity of electing, under one constitutional
system, a parliament that next year will form a government under a different
constitutional system. The problem is that political parties appear to be
under no obligation this year to tell voters who they intend to nominate as
prime minister next year. This prime minister will be Georgia's lead executive
and a powerful one at that.
Georgia’s – Georgian citizens are thus being called to vote without knowing,
for example, who the ruling National Movement intends to nominate as its prime
minister, whether it be outgoing president Mikhail Saakashvili or anyone else.
If political parties are under no obligation to announce their prime
ministerial candidate, Georgian voters will have little say effectively in the
formation of the country’s new government next year.
As with Armenia, we are thus most likely left in Georgia with the need to rely
on managed democratization by the ruling party or an eventual intra-elite power
struggle as the basis for a consolidation of democracy.
And finally, let me briefly mention Azerbaijan. Despite commonalities among
the three states’ political systems, it is clear that Azerbaijan occupies a
different position on the political spectrum. The government and ruling party
dominate political life to a far greater degree than they do in Armenia and
The Azerbaijani government is still reluctant to abide by basic principles of
freedom of expression necessary for normal democratic life, whether via strict
laws on public demonstrations, absence of independent broadcast media or the
imprisonment of young people who speak out in opposition to the government. It
has also pre-empted potential splits among the political elite though a variety
of measures, including the long-term imprisonment of former government
officials. Azerbaijan's political context is different enough from Armenia or
Georgia to warrant separate consideration.
Thank you very much. I look forward to our discussion.
MR. OCHS: Thank you, Cory. And thank you to all of our panelists. We now
begin a session of questions and answers. And I’d like to let people in the
audience know that one of the distinguishing features of a briefing, as opposed
to a hearing, is that people in the audience have the opportunity to ask
questions of our panelists. So if you want to, there’s a microphone. Please
step up and identify yourself. And –
MR.: (Off mic.)
MR. OCHS: Yes. But we’re going to start up here with a couple of questions.
And Mark Milosch has at least one or two to start.
MR. MILOSCH: Thank you, Michael. See if I have the microphone on. You know,
I heard several times in the discussion a comparison of Armenia, Azerbaijan and
Georgia. In my opening statement, I expressed a little resistance to that
idea, and so here I am coming back to it.
You know, I also heard in the discussion the idea that while – that there’s a –
I heard, I think, from three panelists a(n) implicit numerical ranking of one,
two, three. I’m wondering what does that mean, because I also heard from three
or four of the panelists that in fact all of the countries have grossly failed
to meet their OSCE commitments. None of them have had – have had free and fair
elections, and in none of them have elections led to transitions in power. So
that leads me to the question that maybe this one, two, three ranking ends up
being more of a ranking in skill – in skill and artfulness in managing
elections and democracy than progress toward real democracy.
Second, I wanted to throw out another index here. What if we were to talk
about – rather than a ranking of countries, if we were to look again at these
three countries from the point of view of the direction they’re heading now?
You know, is Armenia improving vis-à-vis human rights and democracy, stable,
heading backward? Likewise for Georgia and Azerbaijan.
I’d like to hear any thoughts on that and any thoughts on where each of these
countries is now vis-à-vis where they were in 1990. You know, there may be
countries that were much further along toward democracy in 1990 or had much
more of a basis for democracy in 1990. And they may have made a few inches of
progress and – but still be ahead of the pack, whereas others who were in a
much more difficult situation in 1990 may have made a lot of progress, but may
still seem to be coming up on the tail end here. In other words, there are a
couple of other factors I’d like to introduce into the discussion.
And any panelists want to come in on this? I guess we’ll start it off with
MR. WALKER: Well, very succinctly, I think that the question on the
measurement and ranking is an important one. And I would emphasize that there
are a number of organizations that focus on these issues in their own way.
Freedom House, for its part, has roughly four separate multicountry reports
that happen to include the countries we’re discussing today.
So when thinking about these things, it’s – we’re discussing the Caucasus now,
but in essence the treatment that we’re giving the three countries under
discussion today is the same as any country we’re reviewing globally; or in the
case of our Nations in Transit project, whose most recent findings we’ll be
releasing the week after next, looking at the countries of Central and Eastern
Europe, southeastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
What I would emphasize in this case is that the experts we enlist to do this
are looking at a wide range of indicators. So it would be a real challenge for
any government, whether it’s the ones in the Caucasus or otherwise, to find
some sort of formula for sidestepping the number of analysts that we’re using,
looking at indicators ranging from civil society to election process to
judicial independence to freedom of expression in media and so forth. I think
at a certain point the picture starts to clarify itself on the degree of
institutional space that’s enabled or not. It’s not perfect, but I think over
time we found that we’re able to sharpen this in a way that gives a reasonably
In terms of trajectory right now, it’s become clear in the last several years,
I think – since the last presidential election and certainly since the
referendum in Azerbaijan – that an already closed environment has become more
so on a host of indicators. And we’ve heard a discussion of some of the
examples of this. I think whether it’s political rights and civil liberties,
the wider range of democratic institutions and certainly media freedom, the
space has been shrinking on a number of levels.
In Armenia’s case, I think the watchword has been stagnation. And something
that comes to mind when I think of Armenia is even when the fairly public and
pronounced inducement of the Millennium Challenge account compact was in play,
it was still fairly stagnant there. In many people’s view and in our
analytical view that was the case.
And in Georgia’s case, as I hinted in my remarks, there’s been a good deal of
tumult in recent years, which has necessarily impacted the sort of things that
we look at. So for media freedom, Georgia took some hits in recent years.
We’ve seen some indications that there’s been a bit of a – of a rebound in
stabilization that has contributed to some slight improvements over the last
year or so in their case.
Looking back 20 years, it’s a – it’s a – it’s an interesting question. I think
in some respects the challenges are a bit different. But I think if I had to
generalize to the consolidated authoritarian systems in the region we’re
talking about, I would say that the dominant political powers have been very
adept at reconstituting the key instruments that allow them to retain power.
And some of this now has a much more robust economic component, whereby
political leadership can’t leave power because they would forgo the very
handsome economic arrangements they’ve created over these years. But there are
other things at work.
But I think we’ve been perhaps surprised but also disappointed that so many of
our indicators have bent back in a negative direction in the – some of the
countries we’re discussing today, but also beyond the region in this political
MR. MILOSCH: Thank you. Anyone else?
MR. BOWYER: I’d just like to add – (inaudible) – that I believe there are – I
don’t want to suggest there are different criteria for assessing whether or not
these countries are making democratic progress, but you certainly have to
respect the ODIHR standards that these – the OSCE standards these countries
have subscribed to – absolutely the case. And there hasn’t been an election
held yet, but – in which they have met these standards. At the same time, I
think we do need to be reminded to consider each of the countries within their
own developmental parameters and peculiarities.
You talk about 20 years ago. Well, there was conflict in the region in every –
each of the countries 20 years ago at that time. Not to suggest that stability
at any price is worth it, but the situation is such that although we have
regimes who are in control, and very strong control at that, we do have a more
stable environment – not to suggest that, again, this is the desired outcome.
There certainly were the opportunities, the building blocks to do things
differently initially, but we have to consider the time it does take. And I’ve
heard this argument a lot, probably too many times, from colleagues in the
region and governments who have made this case, that 20 years is not a terribly
long time with which to form a stable multiparty inclusive democracy. It does
take time to develop this.
But it takes political will, and we haven’t entirely reached that point, I
would argue, in any of the countries yet. It – you saw the – what it did take
in Kyrgyzstan to create the hope for such a situation. But it remains very
much a work in progress. And I would say that we do have to have – as much as
we’d like things to change overnight, we do need to keep a broader vision and,
unfortunately, a broader timetable on some of these issues.
MR. DE WAAL: Yeah. I’d just also like to address the 1990 question. I think
that was a sort of – and to generalize very broadly, there was a kind of
trade-off between state building and democracy that happened in the 1990s,
which many – much of the population was glad to accept, and – state-building in
return for democracy. And I think Russia was the trend setter in this – you
know, the acceptance of Putin in 2000 after the Yeltsin years.
But I think Russia is also the trend setter nowadays when we see what’s been
happening in Russia over the last six months. The public is demanding a next
phase. And you know, independence is now irreversible. That can’t be used as
an excuse by governments, that our very statehood is under threat. So there
are fewer excuses. And I think the public is beginning to say now what, that
they want a next phase, they want – they’ve got the state-building, and they
want democracy as well.
MR. NIX: Yes, this goes to the comment about elections and meeting OSCE
standards. I’ll start by saying IRI works with all major political parties in
Georgia. It’s one of the hallmarks of our program. We work with UNM. We work
with all of the major opposition parties. I think both sides respect that
position. And again, I think it’s one of the strengths of the – of the program.
Yet having said that, looking at elections – and we look at these things from
all sides – and my view would be that the comments about meeting OSCE
membership standards in terms of elections probably go more to Armenia and
Azerbaijan than they do to Georgia. In the last national election conducted in
Georgia, both the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission, as well as that of
IRI, described the elections as basically meeting democratic standards, but
citing specific improvements.
And I’ll go through those. I mean, again, it was – it was the voter list,
which has been problematic for many years in Georgia. It was the pre-campaign
period. It was the election code. It was the functions (empowered to the CC
?), independent judiciary, membership of election commissions.
And as I stated in my testimony, some of these remain challenges. On the other
hand, I think we have to give the government some credit for trying to address
the problems that the OSCE/ODIHR mission alluded to. I think there is a good
faith effort. But again, I just wanted to go on the record and qualify that
statement a little bit about I think there are some distinctions in the
election performance between the – between the three countries.
MR. MILOSCH: Thank you.
I’d like to ask one more question on Georgia here, because I know many people
in the room are interested in Georgia. Many people on Capitol Hill are
interested in Georgia, partly because we had such great expectations for
Georgia in 2004. I was struck by what one of the panelists said about Tbilisi
feels like a Central European capital. I was there in August of 2008, and I
did think it felt like a Central European capital, which was one of the reasons
I’ve been shocked by the things I’ve been – I’ve been reading coming out of the
country for the past year.
I’d like to ask you about President Saakashvili’s record on democracy and human
rights. We all know 10 years ago he was the leader of the democratic
opposition. As a consequence of the rose revolution, he became president in
2004. He’s still president. But you know, in what sense should we be
considering him today a democrat, given what we’ve seen now for – since 2004
for eight years?
We hear stories about the Georgian police beating peaceful demonstrators. And
there is no doubt about this, that – the videos are on YouTube, and it’s rather
shocking. There are confirmed reports of opposition supporters being fired
from their jobs as teachers, police interrogation and audits used to intimidate
political opponents, state manipulations that deny the opposition the right to
And I understand that we can say that they have a better record than
Azerbaijan, but I want to say that that’s not – that’s not the index, that’s
not the measure. I’m glad it’s better than in Azerbaijan, but I don’t want
there to be any plaudits here for being able to control your elections more
artfully and skillfully than the Aliyev family.
The most recent State Department country report for Georgia – I’d like to read
the main – the main paragraph there. I think it’s very relevant. “The main” –
quote, “the main human rights abuses reported during the year included
arbitrary arrest and detention. There were reports of selective application of
the law. Crimes allegedly involving government officials or supporters were
slowly investigated and often remained pending, while crimes allegedly
involving persons or organizations linked to the opposition were investigated
quickly and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This imbalance led to
allegations of impunity for government officials. There continue to be
allegations of lack of due process, government pressure on the judiciary, and
that individuals remained imprisoned for politically motivated reasons. There
were reports of pressure on businesses to suppress potential support for the
opposition and independent media. There were reports of curbs on media
So that’s part one of my question. In what sense is Saakashvili a democrat,
and in what sense is he evolving toward some kind of position that – there may
not – he is – obviously not that of dictator, but it’s a – it’s a kind of
democrat that we’re not familiar with, something akin to maybe what Yanukovych
or – is aiming at in Ukraine. We could talk about that.
The second part of my question goes to U.S. policy toward Georgia. Are we too
close to this government that can be described as, in some sense,
authoritarian? Are we giving it a pass on democracy and human rights because
he’s been – Saakashvili has been very pro-U.S.? He used to be the (toasted
official ?) of Washington. To a considerable extent he remains that, though
there has been some distancing from his government. But President Obama
received him at the White House just a few months ago. Georgia receives far
more foreign aid than Armenia and Azerbaijan, so presumably it has some
So the question here would be what should be our policy toward the Saakashvili
government as it heads into parliamentary elections? Is our government doing
enough to ensure that these governments are free and fair? What leverage do we
have? How are using them with what kind of vigor and energy? What kind of
priority are we putting on this? This is of course a question for anybody who
cares to jump in. Thanks.
MR. WELT: I mean, I will at least take a first stab at your first question.
My – I’ve long said, and I think others agree, that Saakashvili has always
considered himself a state-builder first and a democrat second or third –
somewhere down the line. And what he has wished to be known for in history is
building state institutions and allowing Georgia to stand up from the status of
the failed state that he found it in when he came to power.
But he also, to give him the benefit of the doubt, I think considers that he
and his party and his team are the only viable actors that can effectively
transform Georgia for the long term, stably, into a functioning state and a
democratic state. And though we all have snickered at the Russian use in the
past of the phrase “managed democracy,” I actually think that many people in
the Georgian ruling elite believe in the phrase “managed democracy.” And it
was revealing that President Saakashvili, some weeks ago I believe, had
indicated, just give me another term. Just give my team another term.
And the question is whether we want to accept that this is a team that’s
indispensable for reforms in Georgia. And it is a long-term transition, which
at the end will result in a handoff to power. I don’t believe that Saakashvili
is some kind of Yanukovych. I don’t believe that Saakashvili intends to stay
in power forever. But I do believe that he’d like to stay in power for some
time, and his – and his party even longer.
I think one of the things that we need to do is continue to take the democracy
on its own terms, and as I said, not fall prey to the notion that it’s
something that can wait for another day or it’s necessary to wait for another
day. I think we often fall into the trap of assuming that those in power who
are actually making certain progress on certain elements of reform are
indispensable; and that’s not the case.
MR. MILOSCH: Anyone else?
MR. NIX: Yeah, I’d just comment on – yeah, I’d like to focus on the country in
terms of democracy as opposed to personalities. And I would just say this in
terms of sticking with the topic of elections in the context of political party
development, for just one sector. If you looked at Georgia in late 2008 in
terms of political party development, you had UNM over here. You had what was
then termed the radical opposition on the other side of the spectrum that was
talking about two issues: That was impeachment and resignation. There was no
debate about any of the substantive issues in Georgia. There was that.
And so we and others really worked hard to try to build up a more centrist
opposition, an opposition that would (engage ?) on the issues. And I think
you’re seeing signs of that. You know, the Christian Democrats and others
found – even in the radical opposition found that it was more in their interest
to compete on the ballot than to compete in the street. So I think you’ve seen
tremendous progress in terms of parties moving more to the center and trying to
engage the government on these various issues. And I – as I said in my
testimony, I think we will see a highly competitive parliamentary election.
And I think that goes to progress on the democratic front in terms of political
So I think that there has been progress. Again, we have to wait and see. I
think the government has certain obligations with regard to these elections.
The opposition parties have certain obligations. The international community
has certain obligations. We hope for the best. We hope that these elections
will be free and fair, well-administered and observed by the international
MR. MILOSCH: Thank you, Steve. I certainly hope you’re right.
MR. DE WAAL: Just briefly, I would agree with Cory that President Saakashvili
seems – sees himself as a state-builder first and foremost; that he’s compared
himself to King David the Builder, the 12th-century Georgian king, to Ataturk,
to Ben-Gurion more than sort of modern West European models. He’s twice
changed the constitution specifically to fit his own kind of – the structure of
power that he wants to see. And I mean, he does – definitely does have a
The worry obviously is that this has created a structure with very few checks
and balances. I would argue in fact that the Western countries have become the
chief checks and balances on Georgia. And with the best will in the world,
obviously this kind of massive authority does have certain corrosive effects.
You know, my fellow countryman Lord Acton saying, you know, power corrupts, and
absolute power corrupts absolutely. We always have to bear that in mind.
And also I think another problem being that certain sections of society I think
feel excluded from the Saakashvili project, whether it be the sort of Tbilisi
urban intelligentsia, who feel that their freedoms are somewhat restricted, or
– and also another section of society is the kind of rural poor. Agriculture I
think has been – the agricultural sector has been very much ignored by this
government. So there’s a large section of the rural poor who also feel
MR. MILOSCH: Chris.
MR. WALKER: I also think it’s important to focus on the institutional
dimensions of reform in Georgia, recognizing that President Saakashvili is an
oversized political personality. If you look at Freedom House assessments of
Georgia, you’ll find that civil society still performs relatively well, in part
because there’s space. They’re a bit weaker than they were pre-rose
revolution, but nevertheless there’s space in a way you wouldn’t find in many
of the other countries of the region.
At the same time, at a certain point the absence of a meaningful rotation of
power, no matter what system we’re talking about, can create its own
pathologies. And I think, as Tom notes, the inability to create gradually,
steadily, meaningful checks and balances that are institutionalized would
create, I think, problems over time in any system, including Georgia.
MR. MILOSCH: Thanks. I’m particularly glad to hear you say that, because one
of – one of the things I’m hearing there – here is that Saakashvili is a
state-builder, and he has this idea that he’ll build a Georgian state and that
later on, when the time comes, we’ll make it democratic. But – and – maybe I’m
mischaracterizing what I’m hearing here, but that’s – something similar to that
I think is in the air.
And we know that it’s difficult to create a state. And when you – when you
create a state, you give it a kind of character that is then stamped into it
long-term, and that if democracy is not stamped into the foundings, not so easy
to add later. I was just thinking of the French Fifth Republic created by de
Gaulle in the 1950s. And that state, even though he was only the first
president, retains that Gaullist stamp, that character of the founding.
And so I’m thinking, what is a – is a Saakashvili Georgia, with his
state-building – separation of democracy from state-building idea stamped into
it – what does it look like going forward? Doesn’t that kind of – doesn’t that
stay with the state? You know, I don’t want to prolong this conversation
through the whole briefing, but maybe a response or two on that would be
MR. WELT: No, I mean – I think the sequence has been more or less correct, but
I do want to emphasize that I think that they believe that they have, you know,
already embarked on that second path of democratization. And there is
something to be said about the institutions that are being put into place now.
These are, on the whole, on balance, good institutions – the campaign finance
reform, the electoral laws, the constitutional system. And we can imagine, on
the basis of those institutions, a fully democratic Georgia arising over the
course of several years.
The problem is that there seems to still be a transitional period ahead of us,
and we don’t know whether that transitional period in and of itself will put
the brakes on that evolution. But I think that evolution is there, and the
question is whether or not the government will continue to move forward on the
path that it’s already embarked upon.
MR. BOWYER: May I add, in terms of the – in terms of addressing part B of your
question, I believe the U.S. has an enormous amount of leverage over the – over
the compliance and adherence to best practices of democracy in elections in
Georgia. In fact, Ambassador Bass has adroitly led that effort and has been
very active in working with Georgian interlocutors to provide guidance and
recommendations in that regard, in particular with the Central Election
Commission, which has been a very open and transparent body.
That’s not to say we’re – that this is absolute. Certainly there has been
pushback in some respects with what our Georgian partners do versus what we
would like to recommend in regards to best practices of democracy. But I
believe that Georgians are listening very intently, as I mentioned in my
comments about the need to project the legitimacy of these elections. I
believe it’s very high in the Georgian mindset to be seen – particularly with
U.S. allies – that these elections are in fact open, are fair, are inclusive
and are that next step down the path of democracy. And I believe that they
appreciate being held accountable by their U.S. partners.
MR. MILOSCH: Thank you.
MR. OCHS: I’d like to again invite people in the audience to come up to the
podium if they have any questions. In the meantime, I have a question.
Steve, you said something that struck me. You said that elections in the
Caucasus have rarely been lost gracefully, which is a very nice way of putting
it. Turning the conversation away from Georgia at the moment to the entire
region, an unfortunate feature of elections in the Caucasus, and in fact
elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, is that opposition parties frequently
refuse to accept the official results of elections. And I wanted to ask all
our panelists to comment on the implications of their denial of the legitimacy
of the state’s institutions. What does that – what does that lead to?
And there’s a related question, that some analysts believe that it would be
very hard, if not actually impossible, for governments to resolve their
conflicts – that is, territorial conflicts that we’re talking about – unless
they first resolve their legitimacy problem. And I’m wondering if our panel
agrees with that assessment.
MR. NIX: With regard to your opening question, Michael, yes, it’s a critical
issue, acceptance of the election results. As I stated earlier, in the last
national elections international observers stated that the elections generally
met international standards but had made some recommendations for improvement.
And again, we’ve gone through a number of those recommendations and the steps
that the government has taken to try to address those issues.
But I do think it’s a fundamental question of recognizing the elections as
legitimate. If they are declared to be free and fair, if – even if there are
some problems with the elections, if those problems are not found to be
dispositive of the outcome – that is, that they are not in the amount to have –
to determine the outcome – that again, that those be directed towards
improvements in the areas that are deemed to be (programmatic ?). So it’s – I
think it’s incredibly important for the political actors. And I think they
have a responsibility here to act accordingly.
There was an important precedent set that is an exception to what I said
earlier. And that goes to the mayoral election of Tbilisi, where Mr. (Alasania
?), the losing candidate, was very gracious in his concession and conceded the
victory. And I think that’s an important step. And I think we can look to
that as another one of those steps that Georgia is taking – a maturing
democracy, certainly a maturing political opposition – that he conceded so
graciously. And I think that’s an important signal to the Georgian public
about what their expectations should be from various political parties.
MR. DE WAAL: I’d just like to answer you – try and tackle your second
question, Michael, about conflicts. Certainly I do hear the argument, in both
Armenia and Azerbaijan, that to resolve the Karabakh conflict we need more
legitimate governments. But I think that’s in danger of becoming a circular
argument that – in which we end up with neither resolved conflicts nor, you
know, improved, more democratic governments. So I think certainly, you know,
it’s a desirable outcome. But it could be an excuse to do nothing.
And you know, the history of conflict resolution shows that you don’t
necessarily need fully democratic leaders to resolve conflict. So we look at
the Dayton Agreement, in which the key, you know, figure on the – on the
Serbian side was Slobodan Milosevic, who delivered the Dayton Agreement. So I
think we need to work in parallel. Certainly two desirable outcomes,
democratization and resolution of conflicts, but I don’t think we should
necessarily link them.
MR. WELT: I – on that point I think I would tend to reverse the question. I –
or at least I’d reverse the answer – (chuckles) – and say that I think that
conflicts undoubtedly still have an effect on the evolution of political
development in the countries. It’s too easy with these conflicts in place to
be able to blame everything on an external enemy, to associate opposition with
that enemy and to also make a call for the need for a strong central government
with all of the investments into the power structures that pertain. That
doesn’t mean to say that if the conflicts were resolved, all of these countries
would turn into democracies overnight. But I do think that there’s undeniably
a connection in that regard.
Your first question – the other exception that’s developed in the last days is
that the Armenian national congress, led by Levon Ter-Petrossian, has so far –
and he hasn’t reversed his position on this – accepted – seems to have accepted
the validity of the elections, even with just a 7 percent electoral success on
his part. And so that also suggests a sign – and indeed all political parties
in Armenia, at least for now, seem to have accepted these results and will take
their seats in parliament. And that’s a pretty unusual move for Armenian
MR OCHS: Let me ask another regional question and – that takes off on a point
that some of our panelists made, namely corruption. Like everywhere in the
former Soviet Union, the Caucasus has had serious problems with corruption.
What – can you elaborate on the relationship between structural, systemic
corruption and elections? Is it possible to hold free and fair elections where
– as I think Chris and others have said – the people who are in power derive
enormous profit from being in power?
MR. BOWYER: I think one of the key areas – one of the key things is realizing
that this – the use of administrative resources, the vote-buying, the
acceptance of 10,000 drams for your vote – is a criminal offense. By the law,
it’s a criminal offense in Armenia and the other countries. However, it’s
become an ingrained and accepted practice. There – it’s a – it’s a case where
there is a reluctance to report this crime, because it’s a win-win crime. I
get 10,000 drams, I can feed my family for three weeks or so; you get a vote.
It’s a difficult thing to root out, but it begins with – it begins with the
commitment to root out such practices and restore the spirit of what elections
in practice should be in these countries; that is, an opportunity for citizens
to have their voices heard. But it’s become ingrained over two decades. I
think it does take a bold commitment. It does take perhaps people getting
prosecuted, quite frankly, for this at both the top and at the level of voters.
I know that sounds harsh, but there’s no easy way to address it until people
realize that in fact it is a crime.
Although we do understand the situation – economic situations are very
difficult and very trying in these countries – 10,000 drams for a vote may seem
like a good deal. But ultimately you are adding, you are contributing to this
corruption, and you’re propagating it. And what example are you setting for
future generations when you do this?
Not an easy thing to address. I believe the issue of money and politics and
business interests is so widespread and intergrained (ph), as you suggest, that
they’re often indistinguishable. It’s not an easy fix, but there needs to be,
first, a commitment and a – and a bold commitment the – at the basic levels to
address corruption, which so far, aside from some exceptions in Georgia, hasn’t
necessarily taken root.
MR. WALKER: Well, I might make a comparison between some of the countries to
the immediate west. And just having recently spent time there and talked with
a number of people, the issue of money and politics is on everyone’s mind, even
in the new EU member states. The battle they’re fighting is a bit different,
because they are mobilizing aspects of civil society, the media, and in some
instances with some effectiveness, political opposition – but I wouldn’t say
entirely successfully, in terms of getting at the root of the problem and
dealing with the policy prescriptions that would institutionally minimize
corruption over time.
I think if you hop back into the region we’re talking about, and you think
about all of the supporting institutions that would be indispensable for
tackling corruption both at a day-to-day level as part of the system, but also
the corruption of the electoral process – the news media, the judicial sphere,
judicial independence, being able to get real decisions that don’t simply
implement the preferences of the executive – it’s a much deeper set of
challenges to face.
I think in those instances where you’ve seen success, it’s happened with bold
strokes. It’s happened at certain levels – the Georgian case with the police –
and at the grass-roots level. This has been, I think, an example that’s worked
reasonably well. But that’s the exception to the rule in the region. And I
think, as the others have noted, this requires no sort of one simple approach.
But I think if you see more space in the media landscape, more – some sort of
initiatives that encourage judicial independence, you’ll then start to see more
meaningful management and shrinking of the corruption issue. The absence of
that, it becomes very difficult to make meaningful headway against it.
MR. OCHS: If nobody is – don’t be shy. Please come up to the podium. Please
identify yourself and affiliation, if any.
MR.: You have to push the button.
MS.: Press the button.
Q: (Off mic.) Hello – hello? Oh, OK. (Chuckles.) My name is Ala Malova
(ph). I’m with Azerbaijani Americans for Democracy. And I have a question for
the commission members and the panelists. The past record demonstrates that
the Azerbaijani government has no intention or interest in holding free and
fair elections. Every election cycle, we see promises from the Aliyev regime.
But every election ends in wholesale falsification, witnessed by international
observers. And we see international organizations and the U.S. government
expressing hope before the elections and then issuing critical statements
The question is wouldn’t it make more sense to issue those statements from the
U.S. Congress and government well in advance, demanding basic freedoms during
the pre-election period and warning that the legitimacy of the election would
not be recognized until minimum conditions are met? Thank you.
MR. WALKER: Well, I speak for Freedom House in that I think in our case we’ve
been clear and vocal on issues relating to Azerbaijan. And as for the
assessments that are done, it’s one of 197 countries we examine. And I think
the findings speak for themselves. I alluded to them in my remarks. I think
we’ve been rather clear and candid about the trajectory of the country and the
routine and systematic abuses of democratic accountability and all the
institutions that should be enabled to operate independently.
MR. OCHS: Well, one of the implications of your question, though, leads us
into another area which has to do with the methodology of international
observation of elections. All of us have – all of us are familiar with and
have some experience with OSCE monitoring of elections. And for many years,
the ODIHR, the election monitoring organization based in Warsaw, has used
language that can sometimes be confusing. For example, they often say that an
election either met OSCE standards or failed to meet or did not meet all OSCE
standards. And then I’m wondering if it might be helpful – if panelists think
it might be helpful to use different kinds of language when assessing whether
an election has been fair or been rigged.
MR. DE WAAL: OK. Well, I mean, I certainly agree. I think there’s no – 20
years on, there’s no point in mincing your words in an election verdict.
Certainly – you could certainly give them a sort of discount in the 1990s when
these were new emerging states. But for 20 years on, I think you can deliver a
much more unvarnished verdict on elections in somewhere like Azerbaijan. And
you know, the United States has a relationship with many countries around the
world which are far from being democracies. Saudi Arabia springs to mind. And
one can certainly have a certain sort of strategic relationship with countries
on issues that matter while being very clear about your position on their
MR. WELT: I mean, I think one of the problems is the different timelines that
the U.S. government and others might be working on when focused on elections as
opposed to focused on other violations and deficiencies in governance that
affect elections. The problem is that in between those elections period, as
Tom pointed out, we have a lot of stakes and a lot of different facets of our
relationships (with a lot of ?) different countries, including a country like
So we do call out countries on problems that we identify all the time. And in
some cases, that calling out seems to have an effect. It might take some
months, but we have seen instances where it’s been successful. The problem is
– and I think this is just a structural problem – it’s very difficult to
identify those deficiencies in a way that would bring them up to governments
with elections that will come up two or three years down the road, implying
effectively that we see rectification of these deficiencies as a first step
towards a transition of power later down the road. We try to convince
countries to do things which are inherently good and of benefit to themselves
as ruling powers and not in the context of elections.
MR. WALKER: I think that the question points to some larger issues of how the
United States and Europe deals with a country like Azerbaijan, with which it
has a range of interests. But I would encourage a more candid discussion of
these issues for a variety of reasons. I think today we have the Eurovision
Song Contest starting in Baku. In November, Azerbaijan will host the Internet
Governance Forum. On the one hand, there are a number of very prestigious
opportunities that are being afforded to countries like Azerbaijan, as well as
Belarus and Russia – the Olympics, Ice Hockey championships.
I think we could rethink in some ways some of the instruments and tools that
are made available to some of these regimes from which they benefit
considerably. And it’s just a larger – part of a larger conversation. But I
think if your assumption is that the track Azerbaijan is on at the moment is a
– one – is one that will lead to positive outcomes, both for its society and
its international partners and interlocutors, that leads you in one direction.
If you have doubts about those assumptions, in policymaking terms, you might
take a different approach, thinking a bit longer down the line.
MR. NIX: Well, with regard to election observation, yes, I could see why some
of the language that we’ve seen from Azerbaijan and Armenia might be confusing.
I would just make these comments. The next election is Georgia, of course.
And there I think the effort has to be on both short-term and long-term
observers for the reasons I stated in my testimony, and that is that it’s not
just the events that take place on election day, but the entire campaign
Unfortunately, these efforts are time-consuming, they require lots of
logistics, lots of people. They’re very, very expensive. And so resources are
sometimes scarce. But our hope is that our – IRI will field a – an
international election observation mission, both long-term and short-term
observers. And I think you’ll see from our statements, Michael, I think you
know we call them like we see them. And I think that’s the best way to
MR. ANTHONY: I would agree – if I could, Michael, quickly – that the ODIHR
assessment statements have gotten a bit less categorical than they were in the
1990s regarding the elections and their assessments of the – of the process.
And certainly I think it reflects as well in that period of time a widening of
the number of – and breadth of interest of OSCE member states and that the
degree to negotiate this – the statement is very complicated.
And you see the statements becoming more nuanced every time; to wit, last
October in Kyrgyzstan during the presentation of the findings by the – by the
ODIHR OSCE people, it was one hour or so into the presentation when a
journalist asked in Russian – (in Russian) – what is your – so what’s the –
what’s your assessment in the end? And it wasn’t clear after that time whether
it was good or bad. And I think the countries certainly want to know how
they’re stacking up and is it a good election or bad election. But it did –
it’s seldom that clear cut, it seems, anymore. There are many interests to
consider. But it would be refreshing sometimes, it seems to me, to be a bit –
to go back to some of that bluntness that we had in the 1990s.
MR. MILOSCH: Do you attribute the watering down of ODIHR statements to the
influence of any particular government? I’m wondering if it be the Russian
government and the – (inaudible) – European governments to follow their lead
and request in negotiating these statements. Or maybe that’s a little bit too
– farther than you want to go.
MR. ANTHONY: I won’t – I won’t deny that that’s – that that is a – that a
country of that sort plays a – an outsized role and others in configuring those
statements. That’s correct.
MR. OCHS: Please identify yourself.
Q: My name is Catherine Pizolas (ph). I’m a graduate student at George
Washington University. And I have been following the elections in – coming up
in Georgia, and it seems that one of the biggest issues is, as the panelists
have mentioned, the way that Saakashvili has been sort of changing the laws as
it suits him. We saw with the campaign finance reform laws that they were sort
of targeted specifically at Ivanishvili’s Cartu Group. And there were
sanctions on his bank and things like that.
And now we have the issue of Bidzina’s citizenship being revoked. And I mean,
he’s a native of Georgia. He’s also the country’s most prominent
philanthropist and has given quite a bit of money to a lot of state
institutions as well. It seemed, as you said, that his loss of citizenship,
even though technically it might have been legal, was done purely for political
reasons. So it raises the question that without his citizenship being
restored, is it possible for the elections in Georgia to be seen as legitimate?
MR. OCHS: Thank you. Who’d like to take that?
MR. NIX: Yes, those are interesting issues and a very provoking question. My
understanding is yesterday the Georgian parliament adopted certain amendments
to the constitution that would allow someone who currently doesn’t have
citizenship but has lived in the country for a certain amount of time to be
eligible to run for national office. I haven’t looked at the amendments yet;
I’m only relying on reports from our people in the field. But my understanding
is that’s – that will enable people of a certain class to be eligible to run.
It doesn’t go to the original issue that was brought up, which was the
revocation of citizenship. But that’s the latest update we have on that issue.
Q: Well, I’ll just – to let you know, the amendment allows him to hold office,
but it doesn’t actually allow him to campaign, be a member of a party, be head
of a party or donate money to other political candidates. So it doesn’t give
him the full rights of any Georgian citizen in an election, it just allows him
to hold office.
MR. NIX: I’d like to see – do you have the amendment with you?
MR. NIX: Oh.
MS.: I have it if you want it, Steve.
MR. NIX: Oh, I see.
MS.: Oh, that’s not right. Sorry.
MR. OCHS: Excuse me, but if anyone has a comment that you would like to make
on the proceedings or the issues at hand, please come up to the podium and make
the comment. Are you – excuse me – are you – do you have any other questions?
MR. OCHS: Then I’d like to invite – oh, wait.
MR. DE WAAL: I just want to say, I was struck by – I recommend the recent
report to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner by
the rapporteur, whose name I probably have got wrong when I pronounce, Maina
Kiai. It’s very nuanced, but he does-he does also make rather blunt statement
that during the visit, the special rapporteur was informed that most amendments
to the law on political unions were motivated to prevent Mr. Bidzina
Ivanishvili, Georgia’s wealthiest individual, from largely financing
associations or otherwise taking part in the conduct of public affairs in
Georgia through means other than by a political party. So I think that that is
for whatever we think about Mr. Ivanishvili – Mr. Ivanishvili – you know, as an
analyst, I can certain make comments, but that is a – an issue of concern.
MR. OCHS: Thank you. I think the Georgian Embassy would like to comment on
Q: How – thank you very much. Thanks for Helsinki Commission for hosting this
very timely and, I think, very important hearing. Thanks for the witnesses for
providing their opinions and assessments about the democracy in Georgia and in
general in the region.
To go back to the – briefly to the comments, I think – (inaudible) – made, Mr.
Ivanishvili will have all rights to campaign as well as to run for any tickets
in Georgia as soon as the constitutional amendment will go into force.
Yesterday, as Mr. Nix underlined, the parliament endorsed the amendment so it’s
now president to sign into effect into the bill.
It is of paramount importance for my country, for Georgia, to hold and to
conduct the parliamentary election in October free, fair and in a very
transparent way according to the, of course, highest international standards.
Two key issues, transparency and inclusiveness, are absolutely essential to
guarantee the success. And these two elements are the key priorities for the
government of Georgia.
And if you look to the latest accomplishments, down to the elections, are clear
– (inaudible) – these things are happening. For example, the electoral code
reform, party financing legislation, commissioning voter’s (lease ?), so-called
door-to-door verification, new procedures for the Chamber of Control are all
happened with the very inclusive and close cooperation with the civil society
representatives, with the international organizations, with NGOs in Georgia as
well as outside of Georgia.
I just want to briefly respond to Mr. de Waal’s comment that president of
Georgia is changing the constitution on his whim. First of all, President
Saakashvili has no rights to amend the constitution. And you know well, I
think, that the speaker of the parliament as well as his team in the
constitutional commission, they were visiting villages after village talking to
the local constituencies, informing them about the changes. And we’re also
very actively interacting with the international community like Venice
Commission and will replicate the model of constitution and the government,
which is, I think, widespread in Europe.
Coming back to the transparency, as you probably are aware, the government made
a very unprecedented efforts, inviting international observers seven months
before the elections. And we are hoping to receive as many observers as
possible. There are positive signs from the European Union that they will
dispatch the teams to monitor the media on a larger scale. And we hope that
all international organizations represented here will dispatch their able teams
to monitor the pre-election process as well as election process. And of
course, Mr. de Waal and Mr. Welt, you are also welcome in your personal or in
any other capacity. So thank you very much.
I just wanted to – and also I just (wondered ?) one element which Mr. Nix also
elaborated, just on – couple of days ago on May 19th, Inter-Agency Task Force
for Free and Fair Elections started functioning under the auspices of the
National Security Council of Georgia. The mandate of the task force derives
from the electoral code. And the main efforts will be directed to foster the
coordination between interagency – between the governmental agencies, as well
as to promote a dialogue between the government and all stakeholders of the
elections. And I think this is yet another positive signs which will further
prepare the electoral environment in Georgia for the elections.
So thank you so much. And if you have any questions, the embassy is always
open for any information you would like to get. Thanks.
MR. MILOSCH: Thank you, Mischa (sp). Before our panelists have a chance to
respond, I’d like to say that I particularly appreciate your comments on the
Georgian government’s invitation for election observers. And I’m sure that the
Helsinki Commission will be sending observers this fall, and we’re looking
forward to that.
MR. DE WAAL: Sure. I’d just like to respond. I would also like to make the
comment that, you know, it’s always – one thing we do appreciate about the
Georgian government is that we can have a dialogue with them, even if it’s a
dialogue of disagreement.
I certainly wouldn’t use the word whim. I think the – that the 2004 new
constitution had a vision behind it, a vision of a strong executive president.
But that’s – you know, we have to, you know, state the facts that President
Saakashvili, you know, changed the constitution to reinforce the powers of the
presidency in 2004 when he became president. And then, as we also see 2011,
2012, as his presidency is coming to an end, the constitution changes again to
create a new, powerful prime ministerial role. And this is done – this isn’t
the whim of one man; this is – this is, you know, the decision of the whole
I think in many ways it’s a good new constitution. But it’s a story without an
ending. So we wait to see whether it’s a constitution crafted for a more
mature Georgia, or whether it’s a constitution crafted for the personal
decisions of one individual. And we don’t yet have a – have an ending to that
MR. OCHS: Thank you. Please identify yourself.
Q: (Coughs.) Sorry. Embassy of Azerbaijan thank you for putting together
this very important event. We believe that having discussion on democracy in
our region is equally important as having discussion on democracy in another
part of the world. And we are of course always ready and open to have
discussion with anybody on democracy in our region and our country. And that’s
why I’m here – (inaudible
) – closely follow these discussions. And especially we are really open to
consider constructive assessments, constructive recommendations.
Actually nobody is saying that there is not problem or deficiencies in our
region when it comes to democracy. But nobody, I think, should question the
fact that there is political will there to advance democracy, to advance with
democratic reforms in Azerbaijan. And government of Azerbaijan is committed to
this, democracy, the – to the ideals of democracy. And it is – maybe it’s not
very revolutionary. But it is, I would say, very stable – very stable and
predictable manners it is advancing. And there should be no doubt about that.
Actually my people refer to the fact that there is no – for instance, there is
no – so – there are not so many mass protests in Azerbaijan, so maybe there is
a lack of democracy. But we shouldn’t forget that the legitimacy of government
is also there. So if there’s – if government enjoys very wide legitimacy, so
there is no such much room for these mass progressive protests.
So when, for instance, somebody says that Azerbaijan is lagging behind in terms
of democracy compared to other countries. But I wouldn’t say that – I wouldn’t
describe democracy as one thing. Or I would say it’s a process including –
covering many elements. So one country can do better in one element; so other
country can do better on other element. So I would describe the process like
the – for instance, Azerbaijan government extends enormous support to local
NGOs. It extends financial support to local NGOs. It extends financial
support to media outlets so that the institution – (inaudible) – enforce
Actually there has been no references to legitimacy of government. But my
questions is rather theoretical: How had – would you define legitimacy,
especially versus legality? Thank you very much.
MR. OCHS: Thank you.
MR. WALKER: I’d just share observations on the trajectory of institutional
accountability in Azerbaijan. And I think what we’ve seen – and this squares
with virtually all of the other assessments – is that whatever small space had
been in existence in recent years – that’s actually shrunk considerably. And
this has really been the overwhelming consensus of all the analysts we’ve used,
whether we’re talking about the space for independent civil society to operate
without encroachments or any sort of interference or repression.
Certainly the media – which was discussed earlier, but I think it’s a – it’s a
critically important issue on a number of levels. When you look at broadcast
media in Azerbaijan, from which the overwhelming majority of citizens get their
news and information, as well as the limitations on other forms of media – the
newspapers have fairly limited reach, and that’s been shrinking.
The media provides a number of critical benefits, which are not in evidence in
Azerbaijan. One is, for example, providing an artery for civil society to
communicate its message – independent civil society. So that’s virtually
absent there. It also enables a meaningful opportunity to debate policy
issues. And I would note in the case of Azerbaijan – and it’s not a unique
case, but it’s an important case – there’s so much hydrocarbon wealth at the
disposal of the society. Having a meaningful, transparent and serious
discussion about the way in which it’s used and where it’s going is critical,
in part because those resources will not be there infinitely – or indefinitely,
I should say.
So I think – I respectfully disagree with the assessment, based on everything
I’ve seen from the multiple assessments we’ve been doing each year and every
year for the last few years on the trajectory and the performance of Azerbaijan.
MR. OCHS: Returning for a moment to Georgia and Mr. Ivanishvili, I believe I
saw a statement from him this morning saying that despite the enactment of
those constitutional amendments yesterday, that he said that he would not
participate in the election on the basis of those amendments and that he would
be applying for dual nationality. So I don’t know where this – that very
interesting story is going. But it is an ongoing story, and I suspect for the
next several months we’ll be hearing quite a lot about.
We are about out of time. And so if there are no other questions, then I’m
going to turn this back over to Mark to thank our panelists.
MR. MILOSCH: We do have time for another question. Mark.
Q: Thank you for taking my question. I’m Mark Danner with National
Strategies, Incorporated, in Washington. I’m fascinated with the question of
deep states. As a former investigator, I’ve looked into deep states in the
Middle East and in Russia. It’s an area that’s very difficult to measure. You
talked about metrics before, and we have a lot of democracy metrics that we can
look at. But deep states are hard to measure.
Just the other day, for example, I came across a World Bank report that’s dated
up to 2005 that looked at, at least, the shadow economies in the world. And I
was quite surprised that Georgia ranked at the bottom. It’s very difficult to
measure those worlds where the powers that be, the authorities, the
business-political interface don’t want to reveal that.
My question for you deals with your comment about how the West should be doing
some more checks and balances. How do you check – do checks and balances on
deep states? How do you – what is the methodology for investigating that when
it’s tough? It’s dangerous; I think Mr. de Waal mentioned an Armenian
journalist who was beaten – an investigative journalist. How do you do that
from the West? And can that have a positive impact on democracy?
MR. OCHS: Well, that’s obviously such a difficult thing that none of our
panelists seems particularly willing to address it. (Laughter.)
MR.: It’s a good question.
MR. MILOSCH: Any other questions? (Pause.) If not, on behalf of Chairman
Smith I’d like to thank the panelists for the discussion today. I’d like to
thank the very large group of people who showed up. Thank you.