Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe: U.S. Helsinki Commission
Georgia's Parliamentary Election: How Free and Fair Has the Campaign Been, and
How Should the U.S. Government Respond?
Committee Members Present:
Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ)
Representative Stephen Cohen (D-TN)
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor,
Department of State
Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies
Senior Research Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies and International
Director, Center for Black Sea-Caspian Studies,
School of International Service, American University
Location: 2255 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.
Time: 12:30 p.m. EDT
Date: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Federal News Service
REPRESENTATIVE CHRISTOPHER SMITH (R-NJ): The commission will come to order.
And good afternoon to everyone. Thank you for being here.
I want to welcome all of you to our hearing on Georgia's parliamentary
elections, which is now only 11 days away. The campaign has brought Georgia to
a crossroads. It is the most crucial event in Georgian democracy since the
Rose Revolution of 2003.
At that time, everyone will recall Georgians responded to a rigged election
with a peaceful protest. It was a great moment in Georgian history, the first
of the color revolutions. The Rose Revolution brought Mikhail Saakashvili –
I've said it a million times – and his team of Western-oriented, modernizers
into office. Hopes were high in Georgia that Saakashvili strengthened the
state and launched many reform.
Russia's 2008 invasion and occupation of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and
South Ossetia failed to topple the president, and our country has strongly
supported Georgian sovereignty. Vladimir Putin's invasion was yet another
revelation of his cynical brutality.
As an aside, I would note that I was in Georgia in the days following that
invasion working to affect the return of two girls – daughters of one of my
constituents – and, as it turned out, several other young people who were
caught behind Russian lines. And I was deeply impressed by the courage and the
determination that I encountered in every Georgian that I met.
That brings us to the present moment. Only a year ago, President Saakashvili’s
ruling National Movement seemed poised to easily win the October 2012
parliamentary election over a fragmented opposition. But in October of 2011, a
man by the name of Ivanishvili began to unite elements of the opposition into a
new coalition that posed a serious challenge.
Mr. Ivanishvili is a multibillionaire and thought to be a newcomer to politics
– and though he was such a newcomer, he had vast resources. The government
quickly stripped him of his citizenship, and the parliament passed campaign
finance laws that limited the use of his assets.
At the same time, the instruments of the state, budget, police and security
services began to be deployed against the party and its supporters, though to
what extent is a matter of dispute. Consequently, the election campaign has
raised very series questions about Mikheil Saakashvili's reputation as a
I'm sure we'll hear from our witnesses to what degree his government has
institutionalized genuine democratic governance as opposed to the appearance of
it. I don't mean to prejudge this question. It is a difficult one that our
witnesses are outstandingly qualified to grapple with.
But the main questions we'd like to hear our witnesses answer touch on the
conduct of the campaign, specifically the opposition's charges that the
Georgian state has targeted Ivanishvili and his supporters through harassment,
intimidation, beatings, selective enforcement of the law and violations of
freedom of assembly and expression.
If substantially true, that would be terribly sad. It would indicate that the
Rose Revolution had gone bad. At the same time, Ivanishvili and his coalition
have been targeted as working on behalf of Russian. The Georgian government
sometimes seems to paint the conflict not as one between two political parties
but between the Georgia state and its foreign enemies trying to subvert it. We
certainly need to hear your thoughts on that as well.
I do believe that members of this commission will have open minds on all of
these questions and that each of your testimonies will be an important aspect
in informing Congress and our own government on the conduct of the Georgian
election campaign, now in its last days.
We are fortunate to have some outstanding witnesses who will speak to this, but
before doing so, I'd like to now yield to my friend and colleague, Mr. Cohen,
ranking member, for comments he might have.
REPRESENTATIVE STEPHEN COHEN (D-TN): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and to our panel
and interested parties.
I look forward to the testimony and the edification, for I will be traveling to
Georgia with, I believe, Congressperson Kay Granger and Dreier to monitor the
elections. I am certainly concerned about elections all over the world –
including in my home city of Memphis, where they're probably worse conducted
than maybe they are in Georgia and other places. And maybe Georgia is going to
be a great experience, and I'll learn something to improve Memphis. But I look
forward to observing and participating, and hope that the people of Georgia
will have a free and fair election and elect the person who is, indeed, the
winner of the contest.
And with that, I yield back the remainder and just look forward to your
REP. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Cohen.
Before go to our first panelist, I'd like to point out, and would not want to
fail to mention, the terrible scandal that broke yesterday in Georgia
concerning gross abuses in prison. Videos have emerged that reveal the most
horrifying of tortures, including the sadistic rape of men by prison officials.
The Georgian minister of corrections has resigned. Individuals have been
arrested, and the government has pledged to punish all those responsible and to
uproot this problem.
I welcome those actions and promises, but I also would note the statement made
by the national security adviser who said, quote, "We as a government made a
grave mistake when we did not properly evaluate the signals coming from the
ombudsman and other civil society groups about the systemic problem in the
penitentiary system. That is a telling admission. It's precisely the systemic
nature of this abuse that evokes the greatest concern because it raises
questions about the nature of Georgia's state's relationship with its citizens.
I'd like to now introduce our very distinguished first witness, Thomas Melia,
who is the deputy assistant secretary of state, Bureau of Democracy, Human
Rights and Labor. He is responsible for DRL's work in Europe, including Russia
and Central and South Asia as well as worker rights issues worldwide. In
addition to heading the head of U.S. delegation to several OSCE meetings, he is
the U.S. co-chair of the Civil Society Working Group in the U.S.-Russia
Bilateral Presidential Commission.
Mr. Melia came to DRL in 2010 from Freedom House, where he was deputy executive
director for five years. He had previously held posts at the National
Democratic Institute and the Free Trade Union Institute at the AFL-CIO. He
also has a Capitol Hill experience having served as senior elective assistant
for foreign affairs policy for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Secretary Melia has just recently returned from a visit to Georgia, so will
provide, I think, some very fresh impressions as to what is going on there.
Secretary, the floor is yours.
THOMAS MELIA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Cohen, for being here today and
for this invitation.
Before I get into the Georgia discussion, I just want to say how pleased we are
to work on a daily basis with the commission and the staff in advancing a
shared agenda and promoting human rights and democratic values across the OSCE
region. I will be going to Warsaw next week for the human dimension meeting
and look forward to working with your staff and others there in this regard, as
we have so often in the past.
In this context of a shared, continued objective of strengthening democracy in
the OSCE region and in advance of Georgia's October 1st parliamentary
elections, President Obama, Secretary Clinton and other senior U.S. officials
have highlighted the importance of such a truly democratic electoral process
for Georgia in our regular dialogues with the government – in our strategic
dialogue, which means high-level meetings here and in Georgia; most recently at
the highest level, when Secretary Clinton visited Georgia in June.
Last week, President Obama and Secretary Clinton sent to Georgia an unusual
interagency delegation that I was privileged to lead that included senior
officials from the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development,
the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense to demonstrate that
there's a broad interest in these elections in Georgia, just as there is a very
broad and deep relationship being built out between the United States and
Our delegation went to Georgia to highlight of the importance of a democratic
process that produces a parliament that reflects the will of the Georgian
people. I was delighted that our newly arrived ambassador, Richard Norland,
had just been confirmed and arrived, joined most of our meetings in his very
first week in country.
We met with a range of senior government officials, the prime minister and
other ministers, election commission chairmen, the head of the special audit
office as well as with political opposition, NGO election observers,
journalists and others.
The message that we conveyed privately in each of our meetings was identical,
and also identical to what we've said in public: The United States supports
the Georgian people's aspirations for a free and democratic process. We do not
favor any particular party or candidates, and the United States looks forward
to close cooperation with whichever leaders the Georgian people choose.
Conducting these imminent elections with integrity will be critical to helping
Georgia advance its Euro-Atlantic aspirations. They will also be essential to
a democratic transfer of power next year as the parliament elected in October
will, at the start of the next presidential term, will select a new prime
minister who will have enhanced powers under the constitutional revisions that
will take place at the end of this president's term, when President
Saakashvili's successor takes office.
Domestic and international perceptions of fairness of the campaign environment,
including adherence to the rule of law, media access and transparency and the
impartial adjudication of election-related disputes will be important
indicators of Georgia's democratic development.
I would to highlight today, as I did in Tbilisi last week, the importance of
several fundamental principles that featured in all of our conversations in
Georgia and all of which are essential for a meaningful electoral process.
First and foremost is the importance of a level playing field. It is essential
that the political environment is conducive to serious participation in the
campaign by all the major parties on equal terms. We welcome some steps by the
government – through the Interagency Task Force on Elections, most
conspicuously – to address reports of politically motivated firings. For
instance, they issued a statement early in the summer urging all government
agencies to discontinue any layoffs until after the election. This for the
stated purpose of removing the concern that, in downsizings current under way
in the Georgian government, that personnel associated with the political
opposition would be disproportionately affected – that had been the concern,
that it was people associated with the opposition that were disproportionately
losing their jobs as teachers and government employees at all levels.
While such reports of politically motivated firings have decreased recently
since the IATF announcement, concerns remain regarding the levelness of the
playing field, including some alleged harassment of certain activists for their
participation in the opposition coalition, some reports of blurred boundaries
between state institutions and the ruling party – for example, some public
servants using government resources for campaign activities – and the alleged
use of administrative resources particularly outside the capital, such as the
use of public-service announcements that seem to be for the benefit of the
Nevertheless, although there have been some shortcomings, it is clear that,
largely due to the substantial financial resources that have been available to
the main opposition coalition, this is the most competitive election in
The second principle is about rule of law and due process. In our meetings
with the Georgian government and the various political parties, we stressed the
importance of ensuring that the campaign and election laws are applied equally
and transparently, and that all participants are held to the same high
standards of conduct as spelled out in Georgian law.
While almost every party, including the ruling United National Movement, has
been penalized for campaign finance violations, the state audit office has
devoted the most significant part of its attention to the opposition coalition,
Georgian Dream. Although there are some anecdotal and substantial indications
suggesting that Georgian Dream may well have spent substantial amounts of money
in violation of the campaign finance laws, the lack of transparency in the
state audit office's procedures and due process deficiencies raise doubts about
whether the law has been enforced equally vis-à-vis all parties.
That the recent director and deputy director of that state audit office last
month became ruling party parliamentary candidates while the current director
of the office is a former member of the ruling party member of parliament, this
exacerbates the concerns about the partisan nature of the investigations being
undertaken by the state audit office.
We recognize the challenges on all sides of complying with and enforcing a new
set of campaign finance laws and urged the state audit office – we did meet
with their new leadership – to emphasize transparency and due process as it
continues to improve its work. We urged all the political parties to
participate constructively, follow the law scrupulously and to pursue their
political goals through the ballot box.
The third principle is respect for fundamental freedoms, respect for peaceable
protests and freedom of assembly as a hallmark of a democratic society, and the
government holds a particular responsibility to protect and uphold those
freedoms. We heard last week that the political parties we met have generally
been able to travel the country, hold rallies and get their messages out to the
voters with whom they meet. In our conversations, we also urged all parties to
renounce violence and avoid provocations, especially on election day, election
night, during and after the ballot counting and on the morning after.
The fourth principle is equitable access to media. We applaud the electoral
reforms enacted late last year that expanded the access of all parties on equal
terms to the mass media during the 60-day campaign period. More recently, we
were encouraged to see the implementation of the so-called must-carry
legislation during the campaign period, and we strongly support its extension
through the post-election complaints process and beyond.
At present, however, the two nationwide broadcast television networks are
distinctly pro-government – Rustavi 2 and Imedi – while two regional stations
are mainly pro-opposition or at least consistently critical of the government –
Maestro and Kavkasia. Continuing efforts to promote wider access to a
diversity of opinions and media outlets would reflect fundamental values that
The fifth principle that we emphasized in our meetings is constructive
engagement. We have every expectation now, based on both the opposition's
commitment to us that they reject the use of violence and the government's
commitment to us that its security forces will be scrupulously professional,
that election day and its aftermath can unfold peacefully. We certainly hope
this will be the case. After October 1, all parties will need to work together
constructively in the newly parliament to advance Georgia's democratic and
economic development. They should conduct their campaign in that spirit.
Finally, we call on all participants to promote an electoral process that the
Georgian people may judge as free and fair. We commend the work of the
domestic and international observation groups, including principally the OSCE
ODIHR mission that is currently in Georgia to help ensure the election process
is transparent and consistent with international standards and reflects the
will of the Georgian people. The pre-election situation is dynamic, and we are
monitoring developments very closely. Your commission's attention to the
upcoming election is helpful.
Again, thank you for holding this hearing. We look forward to continuing to
work with the commission, and I'd be glad to answer questions.
REP. SMITH: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for your testimony – very
comprehensive – and for the fine work you and the department are doing not the
least of which is trying to get both sides to absolutely commit to no violence
day of and day after, especially day after, which is what I think we're all
most concerned about.
So thank you for that. And you do believe those commitments are ironclad as
much as they can be?
MR. MELIA: I believe they told them to us, and we will continue to reinforce
the fact that we have all agreed on this.
REP. SMITH: Let me ask you – you know, that video that did surface about the
harsh treatment of inmates, could you comment on that? I mean, that seem to be
a very dark insight that caught a lot of us by surprise, certainly me.
MR. MELIA: Well, let me make three quick points about these videos about
mistreatment in the prison system.
First is that I haven't seen the videos, but the descriptions I've heard of
them are pretty gruesome and horrific. And so we're appalled by them. And our
embassy has been engaged with the government and with others there in the hours
– it's just been since yesterday that this arose very intensively.
Second is that it is not surprising. In our annual human rights report that we
published this year about the calendar year 2011, we summarized in the
executive summary three large problems. The first one is continuing abuse of
people incarcerated in Georgian prisons. So this is an ongoing problem. It's
been clear to us for a while. We have raised it with the Georgian government,
and it has been part of our – not only our most recent report, but for the last
REP. SMITH: But this went beyond even what the report would indicate. Right?
It seemed to me to be –
MR. MELIA: Videos always bring a new texture to allegations of abuse. And so
it seems even more horrific than we had realized.
But let me say that the initial response from the government seems to have been
– what's the right word – President Saakashvili has reacted quickly and I
think, you know, in the right way to change the minister of the prison – the
minister overseeing the prisons has been changed this morning. The new
minister is the human rights ombudsman who has a sterling reputation in looking
after these issues. He's one of one of these that has raised the problem of
conditions in prisons in the past. If he has – if he is given the power to
clean up the act there, he really is empowered to take steps to improve the
conditions of incarceration in Georgia's prisons, this could be one of those
moments that, you know, where a horrific incident leads to improvement in a
The other thing that's interesting is that, although there's already been some
back-and-forth between the parties about who's responsible for leaking the
video and whether – how real the problem is and so on, it's worth noting that
Mr. Ivanishvili, the lead of the opposition, also came out this morning in both
a previously scheduled meeting with our ambassador and in a public statement –
called for calm among his supporters, calling for them not to turn this into a
reason for, you know, more public street action in response to, you know, the
government's responsibility to maintain the prison system.
So I think both President Saakashvili and Mr. Ivanishvili have, today, stepped
up and done the right things, done the responsible things, as responsible
people sometimes do in moments of crisis.
REP. SMITH: Are you convinced – one of your main points, obviously, was access
to media. Does the opposition and the government, do they all have close to
equal access or equal access?
MR. MELIA: Well, as I mentioned there are a number of broadcast networks.
There's cable television. There's online news services. It's uneven in it’s –
it has been uneven in its reach around the country. The two main national
stations that have the most reach across the country tend to be pro-government,
echo the government party's views on things. The principal broadcast stations
that are friendly to the opposition or at least critical of the government tend
to be regional stations and don't have the reach in the country. There is also
cable television and other means.
The must-carry legislation which had been urged upon the government and that we
had urged that they adopt last spring, they did, so that all the different news
providers have access to the cable networks of the others so that, at the
moment, up and through election day, there is more diversity in the carrying of
cable news and political discussion.
The point I made in my testimony is that now that it's been established that
the basic cable infrastructure can be opened to the various political points of
view, why stop it on election day? Why not continue it at least through the
end of the official election process. The official election process, of
course, doesn't end on voting day. It ends when the results have been
tabulated, when disputes have been resolved and when the elected officials
assume their offices. That's when, you know, the election monitor's guidebooks
tell you should conclude your observation.
And so we think that, since there may likely be protests and complaints on the
day after the election, that that process, which is part of the election
process, should be accessible to all the viewers in Georgia as well. So we've
urged that that be carried through at least through the immediate
post-election, post-election day period and more generally.
There is a question about whether the legislation that was enacted earlier in
this year that facilitated that which did stipulate that this must-carry period
would end on election day, whether that means that it must stop on election day
or whether it could continue if the providers see fit. So we're encouraging
the providers to see fit to –
REP. SMITH: Are you satisfied that the mechanism for resolution of disputed
ballots is up to, you know, standards that would be universally recognized?
MR. MELIA: Well, the system on paper –
REP. SMITH: There will be disputes, obviously.
MR. MELIA: – is the proper one. We met with the election commission chairman
whose prior career has been as a CPA and auditor for major international firms.
So he knows about lining up the numbers and tallying them accurately. And
he's approached his work, I think, in the spirit of a good CPA.
And they've set up systems, and one of the innovations in this election that
wasn't as true previously is that they will announce incremental election
results as they come in from around the country in real time. And they will
post them on their website, and they will make them available on screens that
will be in the main hall of the election commission building.
And those of us who have seen elections in post-communist world over the years,
that is one of the best practices so that – and one of the concerns in previous
Georgian elections has been a bungling of election results. Prior election
chairs had decided to kind of wait and, every hour or two, they would post
election results. And that led to some suspicions that some finagling might be
going on while the results were tabulated but not yet released.
So what the chairman has committed to doing – and he says this is part of his
publicly announced process – is there will just be a rolling emissions program
where everything will be posted as soon as distribute-level election results
come in. And that is the best practice. So it can work properly.
REP. SMITH: Let me just ask you three final questions, and then I'll yield to
Mr. Ivanishvili's citizenship, when it was revoked and reinstated through the
constitution, what was our take on that at the time? And are we satisfied that
– was it pressure that caused a reversal? Why did that happen?
Secondly, with regards to the chamber of audit that targeted the Georgian Dream
by imposing large fines, are those claims plausible?
And finally, do you believe a sufficient number of election monitors are about
to be deployed to ensure that, you know, when the judgment is made by the OSCE
and others that it was free and fair – if that is their judgment – that there
will have been enough coverage of the election balloting posts?
MR. MELIA: On the last point – let me go in reverse order. On the election
observers, there will be a lot of election observers there. There's a domestic
network there, ISFED (ph) (sic; IFES ?), that's been trained and has operated
through previous Georgian elections. They are up and running around the
country. They've produced some preliminary reports on what they are hearing
The long-term observers from ODIHR are on the ground now. That mission is led
by Nicolai Vulkanov, a Bulgarian, who previously was the number two in ODIHR
for 10 years; I mean, has run election observer missions across the OSCE
region. He's as good as they come. I have a lot of confidence in his ability
to manage all the political turmoil that will be around him and come up with as
straight an assessment as is possible.
So there will be – and there are a number of other – NDI and IRI have been
deploying election missions and will have some there around election day. And
there are a number of others sort of less famous perhaps but other NGO efforts
that are under way to monitor the election process.
So I think there will be a lot of information available and, you know, my view
has always been the more observers, the better. They may not all agree with
each other, but it's the same principle as having – you know, more newspapers,
the better. You don't learn all the same things from different newspapers in
this town, for instance. But if you have multiple sources of information,
you're more likely to get closer to the truth.
So I think there will be a lot of observers. We'll have a lot of information
between now and election day and on the morning after.
Typically, the U.S. government and the European Union wait until after the
ODIHR and other major delegations offer their considered assessments,
preliminary assessments on the afternoon after the election before we opine.
We definitely want to wait to see what all the people on the ground say before
we weigh in. That's our general policy, and I think it will be respected here.
There are other delegations from the OSCE parliamentary assembly, NATO
parliamentary assembly and others that will be there. There will be a lot of
On the question of the citizenship for Bidzina Ivanishvili, that's a
complicated, torturous story. The way it's played out is very unusual. I
mean, a lot of things about the Georgian election and political process are
distinct. And I think we've – they have arrived at a place where he's allowed
to participate. He's clearly become a major political force in Georgian
politics. I don't know that it's helpful to comment on the circuitous route
they got to get to this point, but he's there. He's in, and he can participate
as he wants to.
I'm sorry. The second –
REP. SMITH: Georgian Dream.
MR. MELIA: Oh, well – oh, the enforcement of the laws and the finance laws.
Well, you know, the record is clear, when Ivanishvili announced that he was
going to get involved in politics and launched Georgia Dream – just about a
year ago now; in October, I think, last year – he represented a significant new
element in Georgian politics. At about that time, soon after that, new
campaign finance laws were enacted and new powers were is signed to this state
audit agency, the chamber of control. And it has been vigorously enforcing the
campaign finance laws.
The government officials and the audit office say that most of the money and,
therefore, most of the potential problems in campaign finance, are associated
with Georgian Dream. Therefore, it is natural that most of their investigation
should focus on potential and real problems associated with their adherence to
the campaign finance laws.
Others say that it's been, you know, selective implementation –
REP. SMITH: What do we say?
MR. MELIA: Well, it's clear that – well, I'll make two points. One is that
it's troubling that the leadership of this office – they were leading the
office from last year from the turn of the year through the summer. The
director and the deputy director turned up last month as parliamentary
candidates for the government party. That creates a perception of lack of –
disinterestedness in the process. The fact that the new chairman of the office
is a former member of parliament for the government party adds to that
disquiet. It might have been better to have a retired law professor or another
CPA or somebody like that to do this kind of job. But it is what it is. So
the way that the appointments were made to that agency have created a political
cloud over its operation. The fact that it has been very vigorously enforcing
rulings and investigations mainly against the Georgian Dream speaks for itself,
REP. SMITH: Mr. Cohen?
REP. COHEN: Mr. Ambassador – Secretary –
MR. MELIA: I haven't become an ambassador yet.
REP. COHEN: Yeah; I realized that quickly.
Mr. Secretary, I'm unfamiliar with the Georgian process. What type of
equipment do they use to vote on?
MR. MELIA: That's a good question. Paper ballots? Check the box? Count them
up at the end of the day?
REP. COHEN: So what should an observer be looking for?
MR. MELIA: That might be a longer conversation we could have in your office if
you like before you go. But generally, you know, there's the environment
around the voting booth.
REP. COHEN: Right.
MR. MELIA: I mean, if the voting booth is the epicenter of election day and,
in the ideal scenario, an informed voter goes into a booth and, confident that
his vote is secret, casts the ballot in the way he prefers, how do you get to
You get to that point through a series of reinforcing measures. How do you get
the informed voter? That goes to the media question. Are the candidates and
the political parties able to get their message out to all the voters they are
trying to reach. Is the interested vote able to access all the information he
wants about the choices before him? So the, you know, information environment
leading up to election day is critical.
Is the process fair? Will the votes be counted accurately? That goes to how
the election commissions are appointed, who’s going to be –
REP. COHEN: All that is over and beyond what I will be able to observe in that
MR. MELIA: Right.
REP. COHEN: I mean, am I going to, you know – are they going to be taking
votes out of their pocket and –
MR. MELIA: Well, among the allegations of potential ways in which the vote
counting might be skewed are that people will be suborned or bribed or
persuaded to take pictures on their cell phones of this ballots to prove that
they marked them the correct way that somebody told them to, whether it's their
boss or their neighborhood, you know, block leader or whoever.
There's a – you know, there's rumors afoot that, you know, people – there will
be cameras, you know, monitoring people; that people will be given inducements
to vote one way or the other. Some of that you might be able to see or hear
about. Much of it you may not be able to see as a casual observer not speaking
the local language.
REP. COHEN: Yeah. It's going to be tough not speaking, you know, Georgian. I
mean, I can speak with a drawl, but I don't think that'll work.
MR. MELIA: This is a different kind of Georgia. Yeah.
REP. COHEN: Yeah.
MR. MELIA: You can tell a lot though. You can tell a lot as an experienced
political person yourself. You can walk into a polling place, and you can tell
whether there's an atmosphere of anxiousness, fear, concern.
REP. COHEN: Do they have any rules about how many feet you have to be away
from the ballot area with distribution of literature or wearing of
paraphernalia in the voting –
MR. MELIA: They may well. I don't know what the numbers are, but I'm sure
that there's specified. And that'll be part of the briefing material that you
would have if you're part of the OSCE.
REP. COHEN: Yeah, there will be a briefing. And if you have any other
information, I'd be interested.
MR. MELIA: There are issues about, for instance in this – in this partial
context, it's perhaps more important than whether political party agents can be
out in front of the polling place is where the police and other security forces
might be. And this is one of the – one of the emerging things that we're
watching because we want to avoid a situation in which there's some effort to
provoke confrontations around the polling place. At some point in the recent
past, some members of the opposition have said that they want to make sure
their people are poised to defend the ballot from miscounting or otherwise.
And that sounded like crowds might be gathering at polling places during the
counting, and that might lead to some provocations with police or members of
the other party. We did talk to the minister of interior that oversees the
police, and we've urged them to be responsible in managing any crowds, any
demonstrations that arise. And they're alert to that. There have been
political demonstrations in the past that have led to larger violence and
And so they're aware of that. And some – you know, our government and some
European governments are providing training on crowd management, riot control,
things like that.
REP. COHEN: Do they have, like we have, the rights for both parties to have
MR. MELIA: Mmm hmm.
REP. COHEN: They do have that.
MR. MELIA: They will be there.
REP. COHEN: And do both parties have the rights to be present to count the
MR. MELIA: Yep; they will be. And just to be clear, there's at least three.
There's another major party that will be a significant player in the race, the
Christian Democratic Movement. But the UNM and the Georgian Dream are the two
larger ones consistently in the polling that's been done. But this Christian
Democratic Movement is not insignificant, either.
REP. COHEN: Has there been any polling that you have been privy to that you
can discuss that gives you an indication of how the likely voters would vote?
MR. MELIA: There is – there's a lot of polling that's been going on, some of
it by NDI and IRI, our American party institutes that are on the ground there.
Each of the campaigns has commissioned polls and selectively publish them when
they seem politically useful.
There's a – in the – in this political environment, there's a major discussion
about how to allocate undecided voters or people who decline to express their
preference. The various pollsters have adopted different techniques for
allocating the undecided to, you know, make assumptions, you know, based on
their political skills about where those voters might go on election day.
So that has led to some competing narratives about where public opinion is in
Georgia. So that's all – there's a lot of that publicly available that can be
REP. COHEN: What are the NDI and IRI – the Republican polls say?
MR. MELIA: They have generally showed that the government party remains the
most popular; that the Georgia Dream rose in popularity as the year went on.
And the most recent ones that were published in August showed a dropping away
of the Georgian Dream so that the gap between them and the government party was
widening in the last month.
REP. COHEN: What is – what are the issues that have been raised in the
MR. MELIA: Well, the polling shows that what voters mostly care about – and
this will not be surprising to you – is jobs and the economy. And the
campaigns, in different ways, have spoken to that with their different plans.
So that – you know, Georgia, like any other country these days, those are the
major things that voters say they want the campaigns to speak to. And they
have done that in their way. They've had their public – they've had public
debates, the public forums. As I said, the campaigns are able to get out and
around, and they are – they are campaigning.
REP. COHEN: And so the must-carry law – which I had not heard that term – from
where I am from, I would think that would involve, you know, side arms.
Fortunately, it's not what it is. (Laughter.) Or photo ID, which is not such
a wonderful – but what do they have to carry? I mean, is there a – is each
station given equal time, each network, each broadcast or whatever or equal
time to buy, equal opportunity?
MR. MELIA: I don't think it's – well, there's campaign advertising. There's
purchased advertising space on billboards and radio and television. But
there's also – because of the generally aligned nature of the different
networks, the question was whether they could – they would be obliged to carry
other – the other camp's version of the news and discussion shows.
So I don't think there's a – again, maybe I'm – I don't think there's a
financial implication to that. I think it's just a requirement that they carry
the other side's –
REP. COHEN: And with the advertising, has one side – is it unlimited amount of
TV and radio, or did these laws limit how much one could spend?
MR. MELIA: I can't speak to the details of that. I'm sorry, Congressman.
REP. COHEN: And do you know what the ads are like? Are they, you know – the
two sides – is it just we'll get more jobs and we need more jobs? Or is it,
Jane, you ignorant –
MR. MELIA: I did not see a sampling of the campaign advertisements, I confess.
That's a good question. If I were smarter, I would have done that last week.
REP. COHEN: Do you have any – the Georgia Dream – which I have to think about
the American dream and that's one of our lines. Is – do you have – give me
some impression of what – if the Georgian Dream is successful in the election,
what they would bring to a difference in the Georgian government and how that
might affect our relations with Georgia.
MR. MELIA: Most of the analysts of the campaign platforms that I have seen,
including our embassy reporting, say that there are not significant differences
in the way they describe what they would do for the economy, for the jobs and
Whether the Georgian Dream would adopt a notably different foreign policy or
have a different kind of relationship with the United States, that's a
contested item. When I met with Mr. Ivanishvili at the start of last week, he
spoke very passionately about his commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration, to
Georgia's aspirations for NATO membership and E.U. membership, for a continuing
strong relationship with the United States.
So others will say that that represents some dissembling, that he's – he would
change Georgia's foreign policy. But, you know, we have no way to know what
that would mean in the end. You know, we can't predict what the foreign policy
would be in a Georgia Dream-led parliament or government.
What we know fundamentally is that we want a government that the Georgian
people have elected. That's been our focus in this process. It's not our job
to parse their stated or presumed, you know, policy inclinations down the road.
That's for the Georgian people to decide.
REP. COHEN: As I understand it, he – was he from Russia?
MR. MELIA: He's a Georgian born, Georgian – well, citizen in the end and spent
much of his adult life in Russia making his fortune.
REP. COHEN: In that area? How did he make his fortune?
MR. MELIA: Banking, money management, things like that.
REP. COHEN: Banking. The American dream. (Laughter.)
MR. MELIA: He left Russia a few years ago. He's been living in Paris for a
number of years before he returned to Georgia more full time essentially a
year, year-and-a-half ago. So he didn't come straight from Russia is my point.
He moved out of Russia six or eight years ago, went to Paris, France, and was
there and then he came back to Georgia.
REP. COHEN: Thank you.
REP. SMITH: Just two brief questions to follow up or to conclude.
In cyber subversion by – of Georgian Dream and do we have any information as to
who might have done that? What's the origins of it?
And secondly, with the Caucus (ph) 212 military exercises, is that intended in
any way to affect the outcome of the elections?
MR. MELIA: We've recently heard the concerned expressed about some
cyberattacks on Georgian Dream computer sites and computers and so on. I don't
know the details of that. This has just recently come to my attention.
And we've asked for more information –
REP. SMITH: Could you get that back to us too as you get that?
MR. MELIA: Sure, I can follow up --
REP. SMITH: That will be very helpful.
MR. MELIA: – in the days to come if we learn anything conclusive or
interesting about that.
So we've heard the allegation, but we don't know what to make of it honestly.
As for the Russian and CSTO military exercises, there is one under way in
southern Russia to Georgia's north and one under way in Armenia. My
understanding is that the Kavkaz 2012 Exercise, the principal one that's
happening in the Russian Federation to the north, has been long planned. We
certainly knew about it long ago. In fact, it was planned before the election
date was clarified.
You're well familiar with the Georgia-Russia dynamic, but we have also
encouraged the Russians and their partners in those military exercises to try
to avoid anything that could be interpreted as provocative. We shall see.
REP. SMITH: Is there, Secretary, anything you want to add before we conclude?
MR. MELIA: No. Just that I'm glad that some members will be able to visit
Georgia around the election. That will add to our collective wisdom, and we
can revisit where we are in the days after that. And I would look forward to
hearing your readout from your visit there.
Georgians in the government and in the opposition are among the best friends
the United States has anywhere in the world. And I think we're reminded in the
last week that we should cherish that. So we go into this with a strong sense
of partnership with Georgia as a society and as a country and mindful of the
important accomplishments of this government and, also, alert to some of the
things we'd like them to be doing better going forward in strengthening their
democratic systems and, as part of that, moving along that trajectory toward
consolidation with NATO and E.U. and the Western alliance.
REP. SMITH: Secretary, thank you very much for your testimony.
MR. MELIA: Thank you.
REP. SMITH: I'd like to now welcome our second panel to the witness table,
beginning with Dr. Archil Gegeshidze who is a senior fellow at the Georgian
Foundation for Strategic and International Studies where he lectures on
globalization and development as well as providing training in policy analysis
at GFSIS. Prior to joining GFSIS, he was a Fulbright scholar at Stanford
Dr. Gegeshidze worked for the Georgian government from 1992 to 2000. During
that time, he was assistant to the head of state on national security and chief
foreign policy adviser to the president.
We'll then hear from Dr. Ariel Cohen who is a senior research fellow for
Russian and Eurasian studies and international energy policy in the Kathryn and
Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage
Foundation. A commentator in great demand, he covers a wide range of issues
including economic development and political reform in the former Soviet
Republics, U.S. energy security, the global war on terrorism and the continuing
conflict in the Middle East.
Dr. Cohen's book, "Russian Imperialism: Development in Crisis," came out in
1996 as well as in 1998. He also co-authored and edited "Eurasia in Balance"
in 2005 which focuses on the power shift in the region after the September 11th
attacks. He has written nearly 500 articles and 25 book chapters.
We'll then hear thirdly from Dr. Mamuka Tsereteli who is the director of the
Center for Black Sea Caspian Studies at the School of International Service at
American University where he teaches classes on international economic policy
and energy and security in Europe and Central Eurasia.
He frequently speaks about the international relations in the Caucasus and the
Central Asia political-economic developments, energy security and country risk
analysis. Dr. Tsereteli serves as the president of the America-Georgia
Business Council and the president of the Georgian Association in the United
States of America, USA. He is a board member of the American Friends of
Georgia, the Georgian Reconstruction and Development Fund, the Business
Initiative for Reforms in Georgia and the American Academy of Georgia.
Dr. Tsereteli previously served as the economic counselor at the embassy of
Georgia in Washington covering relationships with international financial
institutions, U.S. assistance programs and business initiatives.
Dr. Cohen, if you could proceed first.
ARIEL COHEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, the staff, for doing a
terrific job day in and day out on a number of issues that I follow, including
Mr. Chairman, I am covering Georgia since '93, so it's almost 20 years. I've
been in the country many times, wrote a monograph about Russia-Georgia war.
I've also been an election observer in Russia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan
and other countries. So it is, indeed, an important election that we're facing
that will define not only who and how rules Georgia but, also, it will be
crucial for U.S.-Georgian relations.
Georgia is a geopolitical centerpiece in that part of the world. President
Saakashvili developed a policy of Georgia building on the policies of his
predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze, bringing Georgia away from the Russian sphere
of influence and building a strong relationship with the United States.
His challenger, the Georgia Dream Coalition head, billionaire, Bidzina
Ivanishvili, has deep ties to Russia. Ivanishvili built his 6.4 billion
(dollar) fortune as was mentioned before in the opaque Russian business world
primarily in banking. And jokes aside, Russian banking is not the same as
So this year, we found out that Mr. Ivanishvili sold the majority of his assets
to business people who are directly and closely connected to the Kremlin.
Transactions like that do not happen in Russia without an explicit approval and
blessing from the Kremlin.
The rhetoric of this campaign is far from courteous. The Ivanishvili-led
opposition is not mincing words. Its leader called Saakashvili, quote, "son of
a dog," and quote, "professional liar," unquote. In Russia and many
neighboring countries, such language would earn the opposition leader a jail
term or worse. Not in Georgia.
In fact, recent media monitoring that was already discussed by Deputy Assistant
Secretary Melia also found that the press coverage – printed press – is
pro-opposition. When they did content analysis on photography, President
Saakashvili came out with more negative coverage in terms of pictures, whereas
radio was neutral and TV channels are polarized. As was mentioned, the
national channels being more pro-government and three other channels being
There are serious accusations against the government ruling party and the
government practices. Georgia Dream accused United National Movement, led by
Saakashvili, of abuse of office, firing supporters of Georgia Dream from their
jobs and other transgressions. It also claims that a small group of cronies
surrounding Saakashvili holds Georgia in an iron grip. If so, it is difficult
to understand why IRI and NDI polls demonstrate about 20 percent lead for the
UNM but 55 percent against Georgia Dream, 35 percent. And Georgia Dream is not
lacking for money.
So the electorate in these elections have a real choice. After all, the ruling
party took Georgia through a disastrous war with Russia in 2008 and a deep
economic crisis. Georgian voters may have had enough of perennially active
Saakashvili who is currently moving the parliament to Kutaisi, second largest
town in the country and relocated Georgia Supreme Court in a coastal town of
Batumi. But this is not what the poll data showed.
In addition, speaking of poll data, the pollsters who work for the ruling party
are accusing opposition of manipulating polling results projecting much higher
numbers than the Western-funded polling.
So what I see comparing to other places I did election observation and having
been in Georgia not too long ago in summer is a highly competitive election
which is an achievement in itself. Let's not forget the Georgian political
system as we see it is functioning only for nine years, and the Soviet rule
ended 20 years ago.
Horrible information came yesterday and day before, I believe, or yesterday and
today about abuses in the Georgian prison system. The recent revelations of
systemic torture horrified Georgians and foreigners alike. Such horrors should
not be tolerated especially in a country which aspires to integrate into
Euro-Atlantic institutions. However, unfortunately, such despicable abuses
happen everywhere. As we remember from our own Abu Ghraib scandal, in a number
of U.S. prison systems recently in Alabama and Michigan where court settlements
were reached involving hundreds of claimants, and in a country like Albania
which is a NATO and E.U. candidate.
It is encouraging that the Georgian leadership promised an impartial
investigation leading to a comprehensive reform. We should not expect anything
less than that. But looking broadly, by the standards of the former Soviet
region, these are, as I said, highly competitive election with access not just
to the media but also with reports of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands
of people attending rallies for the ruling party and for the opposition.
The Georgia voters are informed and will have an opportunity to exercise their
vote, and having election observers on the ground is extremely important and
crucial. And I do have confidence in the ODIHR and OSCE observers doing their
job. And we should wait for their reports.
Unlike many countries where anti-American sentiment is rising – including
Russia, Iran, Turkey – Georgia is truly different. President George W. Bush
has a street named after him in the Georgian capital. Oil, gas, commodities
and finished goods worth hundreds of millions of dollars move through Georgia
on a daily basis. Its geopolitical role, alongside the Black Sea, is a budding
oil and gas which Azerbaijan and the Caspian is crucial.
In case of a scenario, vis-à-vis Iran, Georgia is also going to be
geopolitically, very, very important.
We heard about the maneuvers – the maneuvers by the Russians that led to the
war in 2008 may create an intimidating effect if they occur before the
elections as planned.
So this is a – we are at a determining point, and in the recent years, in this
country, in this city, in this administration, focusing blindly on democratic
process, excluding all other our national interest had become somewhat of a
fashion. We're seeing the results in the Middle East.
The previous U.S. administration and the current one encouraged elections in
Gaza that brought Hamas to power, encouraged the Muslim Brotherhood to contest
seats in Egyptian parliament under the previous regime, encouraged the
elections that brought the Muslim Brotherhood administration in Egypt with the
results in the long term that may be severely detrimental for American national
Clearly, Georgia is no Egypt. Saakashvili is no Mubarak. Georgia, one hopes,
would rise for the occasion and conduct elections with minimal violations, let
alone violence. And let me quote the former assistant secretary of state and
my boss, Kim Holmes, quote, "Free and fair elections are indispensable to
democracy. You can't have democracy without them, but neither can you have
democracy without an even greater commitment to the values, institutions and
customs that make it work.” And I believe that Georgia is in the process of
creating these commitments to values, institutions and customs that make it
As I said, the democracy in Georgia is – started 20 years ago when the Soviet
Union collapsed. So far, observer missions from OSCE, IRI and NDI seem to
report the elections are on track. We should expect their reports. We should
definitely hold the current Georgian government's feet to the fire expecting
reasonably conducted elections by European standards. However, we should not
face an either-or choice or focusing exclusively on elections or pursuing
American interests. That's a false choice.
Mr. Chairman, hopefully, the U.S. can learn from our recent mistakes. Thank you
REP. SMITH: Thank you so very much.
Dr. Tsereteli, if you would, proceed.
MAMUKA TSERETELI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
It's an honor to be a witness on this commission. I would like to submit my
written statement that I also submitted for the record. Thank you.
I think timing of this hearing couldn't be more appropriate. The streets of
Tbilisi as well as social media is filled with demands and facts reflecting on
the developments in – related to prison abuse. Citizens of Georgia ask
questions how something like that could be happening in the country that has
European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations; that is known for its tolerance and the
cordial human relationships.
Unfortunately, the videos only prove what was said many times by some people
and, also, was reflected by the U.S. Department of State annual reports on
human rights. I don't think that we fully appreciate here in this room the
magnitude of events unfolding in Georgia at this point.
Georgia's prison system as well as its pre-trial detention mechanism is an
important factor in Georgian political, economic and social life which impacts
the daily lives of thousands of Georgians and their decisions about how they
deal with the government as well as on how they approach elections.
There is a failed state in Georgia. Some government officials assessed prison
abuse as a systemic problem. And they are correct. But this is moral failure
Georgian society is shocked by the facts of abuse of power and maybe cover-up
that involve high-level officials. It demands full-scale investigation.
This abuse can only happen in an environment of unchecked and unbalanced power
such as exists in Georgia today. This case increases importance of upcoming
I think it's good news that, despite responding to this crisis and street
events, both government as well as opposition called on calm. And the
opposition, in particular, called against unplanned street events.
Georgia made visible progress in creating functioning state entities in recent
years reducing regulatory burdens, developing critical infrastructure and
eliminating bribery and bureaucracy. These are distinct achievements, and the
Georgian people as well as the government deserve credit for those
But those achievements also raise the bar for expectations for Georgia.
Georgia is facing difficult security challenges, but it can only meet those
challenges if it has national consensus on major issues affecting the country.
The Georgian population has expressed multiple times in referendums and polls
its desire to join transatlantic and European security and economic
institutions. Achieving those strategic objectives require internal stability,
but stability can only be achieved if political process creates an environment
of broader political representation in the government.
Leaders all around the world, heads of state, international institutions, U.S.
politicians, leadership of NATO, friends of Georgia see the upcoming election
on October 1st as an important milestone in building Georgia's democratic
statehood. Many have called on Georgia to make certain that voters have an
opportunity to express their free choice and, once they did it, to make sure
that the results of elections are respected by all the participants of
In recent years, the Georgian political scene has been completed dominated by
United National Movement of Georgia, or UNM, the party of President
Saakashvili. The UNM has won constitutional majority in the parliamental
elections of May 2008 which has, de facto, created one-party rule in Georgia.
In fact, Georgia has been ruled by UNM with no significant opposition since
2004. Moreover, developments after 2008 elections effectively eliminated
debate and political collaboration from the Georgian scene. This has led to
many harmful internal and external decisions by the Georgian leadership which
has responded to criticism by frequently suppressing opposition with excessive
force. One-party system do not represent the electoral mood in Georgia.
I would focus very briefly on some of the things that, in my opinion, the
United States government should do in order to support free election process in
Georgia and then, hopefully, we'll have some questions and answers.
I think U.S. should stay actively engaged in Georgia as an important observer
and facilitate the development. Success of Georgia is essential for U.S.
strategic interests in the broader Middle East and Central Asia region, but
it's also essential for stability – broader stability.
I think U.S. should entertain frank, public discussion about the state of
democracy in Georgia. Georgia has made some progress, and the current
government has done good things for the country. But narrative that stresses
Georgia's liberal credentials need to be recast in light of some significant
Monitor closely unfolding details of the current prison crisis and
I think U.S. needs to establish strict conditions and benchmarks for the
Georgian government to ensure the elections are held in a free environment.
Election monitors from the U.S. government will be very useful.
U.S. needs to collaborate we closely with the intergovernmental commission on
election process violations. I think this commission is doing positive job –
positively contributing to the process.
The U.S. should communicate to the Georgian leadership that if there are doubts
about legitimacy of the elections, the U.S. will not recognize its results.
Plan to hold another congressional hearing after the elections to review
progress and announce this in advance to the elections. The U.S. needs to
monitor developments after the election as well. The election process may not
end by the night of October 1st. It is possible that the results of the
election in several districts will be disputed and recounts may be requested.
In order to avoid confrontation, it is important that there is a process of
mediation through OSCE or other monitoring groups where the U.S. will be a
I think we need to mount – the United States needs to mount an effort to review
the state of Georgia's media ensuring access to alternative sources of
information throughout the country. Insist on immediate release of satellite
dishes confiscated by the government, advising any international
representatives to the Georgian National Communication Commission and then
closely monitoring its operation will be positive steps.
Georgia has potential to become democratic state, full-fledged member of the
transatlantic family of nations. Their potential needs to be accelerated and
deepened. The upcoming elections need to be seen from that perspective.
Proper conduct of elections will get Georgia closer to that goal.
Mismanagement of the elections may throw Georgia back for several years or
maybe even decades. In the – (inaudible) – of the challenge to Georgia, John
Stanick (sp) – wrote it is magical place, Georgia, and it becomes dream like
the moment you have left it. And the people are magic people. It is true that
they have one of the richest and most beautiful countries in the world, and
they live up to it. The Georgian people are capable of deciding the right path
for their future. Free and fair elections will give them that opportunity.
REP. SMITH: Thank you, Doctor.
We'll now go to our last, Dr. Gegeshidze.
ARCHIL GEGESHIDZE: Mr. Chairman, other members, professional staff, thank you
very much for this wonderful opportunity to share with you some of my
observations on the situation around elections in Georgia.
Excuse my academic style of presenting since I come from academia and this is
my very first time testifying before you.
Well, I will start with a very short overview of the past – of the democratic
transformation which Georgia has gone through, then I'll try to characterize
also shortly the state of affairs in and around the elections, what the
electoral environment looks like. And then I'll also try to share with you
some my observations, but very general – not as specific as Dr. Tsereteli
presented – some of my observation on what the West in everyone and the United
States in particular should do in order to facilitate a free and fair election
process in Georgia.
The first point is that Georgia's record of democratic transformation is
controversial. On the one hand, the country is freer than the immediate
neighborhood and demonstrates, at times, spectacular success at institutional
modernization. The government was able to liberalize the economy, attract
increased foreign direct investment, improve revenue collection, curb elements
of small-scale corruption in the public services, streamline inefficient
administration, legalize the shadow economy, reduce crime, provide
uninterrupted energy supply and rebuild roads and other infrastructure.
Among the most important and spectacular successes of the new government has
been the overthrow of the autocratic leader of Adjara previously defined these
On the other hand, the overall quality of democracy promotion raises concerns.
Georgia's political development since the Rose Revolution can be measured in
various ways, but the Freedom House course indicates an obvious stagnation.
What actually happened was that all power went to the executive body, and the
legislative and judicial benches became their perfunctory appendages. Power
and the political regime thus became associated with the president.
Currently, political institutions that provide pluralism and competition are
manipulated by the ruling elite for one reason, to maintain and expand
political power. Critics of the government point at serious setbacks in terms
of institutionalizing checks and balances eventually leading to serious
Further, the existing constitution substantially weakens a legislative body,
thus disabling it in its exercise of oversight functions. Also, as the
executive dominates the political landscape, it increasingly coerces the
judiciary, curbing its independence. Additionally, the state intervenes in the
independence of the media and brutally abuses property rights.
Georgian democracy has always been hostage to either security concerns or power
struggle, and this continues over already 20 years. This is the reason why the
Georgian reforms in the sphere of democratic transformation were either
one-sided or inconclusive. While the emphasis during the reforms was put on
strengthening the state, little attention was paid to building and
strengthening democratic institutions and improving human rights.
Independent judiciary, rule of law and media freedom are the most renowned
cases of absence of will on the part of the government to reform. One of the
recent examples of the inconclusive nature of reforms is Georgia's penitentiary
system which accommodates one of the highest per capita numbers of prisoners in
Apparently, the government preferred coercion and intimidation as a method of
managing the overcrowded prisons over modern and civilized standards. The
terrible videos we have seen last days prove widespread and systematic torture
at the prisons.
From a moral standpoint, it is a big shame for Georgia. From the political
standpoint, both domestic and international, it may have far-reaching
consequences for the government as well as the country and its image.
None of the elections held since independence had been simultaneously free,
fair and competitive. The cleanest of all is the – is considered the October
1990 elections – still Soviet Union – conducted with little violence during the
campaign and no evidence of overt interference with the polls and which brought
to power the nationalist and anti-communist political forces.
Against this backdrop, the most disputed election since independence had been
the – has been the presidential election in January 2008. Critics hold that
Saakashvili had illegally used budgetary and administrative resources to secure
victory with a narrow margin over the opposition candidate. Similar
allegations were made about the unfairness of the general elections the same
Although the international observer missions gave legitimacy to the outcome of
both events, subsequent official reports admitted massive irregularities at all
stages of the election process.
This time around, the picture is mixed. On one hand, the pre-electoral
environment is competitive and pluralist. Also, there are some welcome
novelties such as the new election code, intergovernmental commission that
operates under the National Security Council, voters list verification
commission must carry rules that obligate cable operators to carry TV channels
with news programs during the campaign period, improved format of public
debates on the national public TV, et cetera.
On the other hand, some of these novelties are far from perfect. For example,
must-carry rules have not been timely or properly enforced across the country.
Not all recommendations by the Venice Commission have been incorporated in the
election code. Also, the prisoners who have committed minor crimes were given
electoral rights. However, in the light of the recent scandal over human
rights abuse in the penitentiary system, serious doubts arise as to whether the
inmates will be able to make free choice at the ballot boxes.
Inversely, overwhelming majority of Georgians living outside the country who
are perceived to be critical towards the government are practically deprived of
the right and/or possibility to vote.
While competitive and pluralist, the pre-electoral environment is too
polarized. Reports, for example, from Transparency International, inform us
about numerous cases of intimidation of opposition activities, physical
reprisals against opposition supporters, detention and arrest on political
grounds, selective use of legal resources against the opposition by imposing
disproportional sanctions, pressure on businesses that support opposition, use
of public resources for political and electoral process.
Apparently, the dominant feature of the post-Rose Revolution period wherein the
ruling party faced a fragmented opposition has made it relax and has taken it
by surprise by Georgian Dream, the newly emerged opposition coalition.
As the ruling party dominates at all levels of state governance, it is
difficult to differentiate the governing political team's activity from the
electoral activity of the ruling party. Given the circumstances, the
opposition coalition faces a state rather than the party as a competitor in the
elections. The state portrays the Georgian Dream as an enemy of state by
accusing of being Russia's fifth column and a retrograde force aiming at
sending Georgia back to dark and corrupt past. For most of the public,
groundlessness of these accusations is obvious. Nobody believes.
Meantime, witnessing all these twists and turns, the public remains deeply
distrustful towards the electoral process, and this is the main disadvantage
and deficiency of the electoral process.
As Georgia remains a primary target of Western assistance, some argue that
future assistance programs should be more carefully structured. It is believed
that, with Georgia being the success story of Western democracy support, too
big a share of the assistance package has gone to the government without
requiring accountability on spending. Also, the strong political and financial
support for Georgia's democratic development after the Rose Revolution has
backfired to some extent since it has not been backed up by clear benchmarks
One such benchmark definitely is these elections. Fair assessment of the whole
electoral process has a crucial importance for Georgia's future development.
Sadly, though, in the past, there have been instances of premature assessment
by international observers that have paid lip service to Georgian democracy as
well as to the West's reputation in Georgia and the wider region.
One of the most notorious cases has been a statement by a co-chairman –
coordinator of the short-term observation mission which said that the 2008
presidential elections in Georgia was a triumphant step of democracy. Given
the extremely polarized environment, we need to avoid such statements and
assessments. More so, the international arbiters – monitors need to change the
criterion of evaluation and, instead of basing their judgment on the comparison
with the past electoral process, they have to assess how far or how close those
elections are from those in Western democracies.
REP. SMITH: Thank you very much, Doctor.
We do have a vote, so we do have to make our way to the floor in a couple of
But that said, I'll just ask a couple of questions and yield to Mr. Cohen who
will ask a couple of questions.
And I think your point about having a follow-up hearing is a good one. We will
do that, and it will be done in a very timely manner. So thank you for that,
Let me just ask a couple of questions. You know, the wealth issue which has
arisen many times – and, Dr. Cohen, you mentioned it – $6.4 billion you've
talked about. You know, even in this country, there's been an ongoing
fractious debate about how much an individual should spend, how much can be
spent on a campaign. Part of it was settled in a Supreme Court case known as
Buckley versus Valeo, and it's pretty much unlimited by the individual
candidate towards his or her campaign.
In my own state, Senator Corzine spent over $60 million for a U.S. Senate seat.
I mean, astronomical amount of money, but, you know, our laws allow that to
And I'm wondering if, you know, there is such a check and a balance on all that
and, you know, both sides have valid points. Maybe you want to speak to the
issue of having huge amounts of money and being able to essentially buy a
campaign. But I know there are limits. So maybe you want to speak to that.
Where will Ivanishvili take Georgia? I mean, Dr. Cohen, you seemed to speak
most about that and cite a number of concerns. And I would appreciate it if
you'd elaborate on that very quickly.
And then what our overriding concern has to be is free and fair. Do you think
this will be a free and fair election? Or are the checks and balances already
baked into the – into what will be an election in 11 days? Or do you think we
have reason to be deeply concerned?
I wish I had more time. And Mr. Cohen?
REP. COHEN: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I suspect that the biggest issue which I would like a response to is where you
think the Georgian Dream would be – if they're successful, where they would
take the Georgian government different than where it's been and what the
relationship would be with Russia in terms of how that might affect relations
with the West.
And, also, the gentleman mentioned human rights and how you see human rights as
being permitted by the present government and what differences might exist if
the Georgian Dream were successful in their election. And what do you foresee
for the election? Has it been – on the conditions to date as far as
advertising, as far as enforcement of laws and restrictions that may have been
imposed, has it been fair?
MR. COHEN: Gentlemen, excellent questions. All demonstrate your deep interest
Real quick, on the issue of personal wealth, let us make a comparison. Six
point whatever billion dollars is more – if my calculations are correct – more
than a half of Georgia's GDP per annum. So it would not be comparison with
Mitt Romney's meager 250 million (dollars) – meager in comparison to Bidzina
Ivanishvili. It won't be a Ross Perot. It would be a guy or a gal with a
pocket $7 trillion deep. People like this don't exist on Planet Earth.
And there is a culture of bypassing official channels of financing in case of
Russian oligarch, which Mr. Ivanishvili, whether he holds Russian citizenship
or not, comes from a political culture of oligarchs. There's a modus operandi
of cash. And, you know, if the Georgian government is successfully tracking
that, good luck. If they don't, then they can't.
But I bet you dollars to donuts, you cannot think about this campaign only with
official figures. Probably on both sides, but especially when you have one
big, deep pocket.
In terms of direction, I think this is a strategic question, and this is
something I'm grappling with and not a lot is said about that. And that is
that whether we like Saakashvili or not, he never studied in Russia – he
studied in Ukraine and in Colombia – he spent his formative years in Georgia
and in the United States. And he built his movement more or less in his image
in terms of getting a lot of Western-trained people around him.
Georgia Dream, on the other hand, has a Russian oligarch – a former Russian
oligarch – as its head, has some first-rate diplomats – Ambassador Japaritza
(sp), Ambassador Irakli Alasania – which I don't doubt their professional
quotas. But that movement also has components that are deeply nationalistic,
traditionalist, embedded with the church. And the Georgian Church, parts of
it, are embedded with the Russian Orthodox Church and, in some cases –
(inaudible) – and anti-Semitic.
So I do have concerns about that as well. And the rhetoric about distancing or
slowing down the process of NATO integration was a signal. The rhetoric by Mr.
Ivanishvili about opening Russian markets, getting closer to Russia are
understandable because traditionally, for decades and centuries, Georgia did
export fruit, wine – fruit, wine, mineral water – to Russia.
But orientation is not the same as the United National Movement which is
staunchly pro-European. They are aspiring to bring Georgia into the E.U. You
and I can wonder why would you want to join the E.U. at this point, but that's
Human rights, clearly, there is a place for improvement as we witnessed in the
prison scandal. I'm not a computer geek. I'm not a computer expert. I cannot
tell you what is the significance of these recent accusations that they were
planting malware on the computers. I think somebody needs to look into that.
But in terms of human rights, there's always, in every society, a place for
improvement of individual rights of privacy, of penitentiary system. No
question in my mind that things can be done better in Georgia.
REP. SMITH: To be totally fair to our other two distinguished witnesses, Mr.
Cohen and I are going to have to leave in about two minutes. There's only five
minutes left on the vote. But we will leave this open. Michael Oakes will
stand by. And then all of your comments will go not record, and then we'll –
without objection, we'll do it that way because I want to hear from both of
you. We both want to hear from both of you. So please proceed as long as
MR. TSERETELI: First of all, accusations of Georgian church being –
(inaudible) – somehow to Russian church is absolutely wrong and false. And I
just don't want to go into that discussion.
There are individuals who may be like individuals from the Georgian government,
maybe like individuals from opposition maybe, but saying it to the entire
church, which is most probably one of the bases of stability in Georgia for the
last decades, I think, is very wrong.
About the wealth of Mr. Ivanishvili and money and politics, during the
elections in 2010 in local elections, mayoral elections, Mr. Alisania spent
about hundred times less than incumbent mayor of Tbilisi, Mr. Ugulava – hundred
times. The difference was hundred times.
So talking about money coming into politics sounds like not very relevant.
Although I personally do not support large money coming into politics. So
there is a limit of how much each party could spend. And I think government is
very efficiently pursuing these limits to restrict money spending into Georgian
Onto the issue of future of Georgia. As my colleague and friend, Ariel,
mentioned, Mr. Ivanishvili, from the time he announced his participation into
politics, said that he's relying – he's basing his political group as a core
group on Mr. Alisania's free Democrats and the Republican Party who's also
known for its protestant credentials.
So I think, by that, he expressed his (Protestant ?) orientation from the
beginning. And I – we may again have some people in his coalition, like in the
government, who are willing to maybe change a little bit of the course of
Georgia's development. But I don't see major challenges in terms of progress
and orientation to Georgia.
REP. SMITH: Without objection, at the conclusion of Mr. Gegeshidze's
statement, the hearing will be adjourned. But again, this will all be on the
record, and I thank you.
MR. GEGESHIDZE: OK. Thank you.
All right. Well, regarding billions in the election campaign, yes, I also
would not support big money participating and being used in the election – in
the election process. But this is the given fact, the reality.
And I think that Ivanishvili's billions are less evil than the benefit which
are the plurality and competitiveness that these elections do have compared to
the situation wherein Ivanishvili wouldn't have been because Georgia does need
higher quality democracy, higher quality electoral process. We, at last, need
to graduate the very first class of democracy such as electoral democracy
because all our previous elections have been contested, and it's already 20
But still the trust in the public towards elections are very weak, very low.
And this is very bad for Georgia. And if not Ivanishvili's appearance, then we
would not have this competitiveness and, if you wish, certainly, intrigue in
Regarding Russia, well, going deeper into analysis with this Russian origin of
a person who has made his fortunes there mean? I don't know. How many
American businessmen have made their fortune in Russia or Polish or Estonian or
Belgian businessmen because Russia was a huge country in the '90s, and
everybody, if not lazy, would go there and make money. So this guy also made
But what about the Minister Bendukidze who also made his fortune in the '90s
but was brought back by this government as the minister of economy and not a
single word against his Russian origin was ever mentioned by the government.
Sorry? (Off mic exchange.) Yeah. Well, so I would consider this a very weak
argument, if it is at all an argument in this discourse.
Human rights. Well, the elections are usually – and everywhere, both here and
in Georgia – about politicians running for the seats in the government,
promising and voters listening and believing or not believing. So I cannot
judge to what extent the – Ivanishvili's government, if it happens to come to
power, will be more effective in observing human rights because I have not had
a chance to test that.
But if one assumes that the human rights record in today's Georgia is very poor
– very, very poor – and there are almost no improvement since the Rose
Revolution, and the recent days have demonstrated again where are we standing
in that regard, I would believe that at least that if Ivanishvili comes to
power, human rights will be at least no worse than what they are today, if not
Well, I think I'll, to save our time, stop here.
STAFFER: Ladies and gentlemen, as you've all heard, Chairman Smith and
Congressman Cohen had to leave to go and vote. They will not be able to
return. So we will adjourn this hearing. However, as the chairman said, he's
planning to hold another hearing after the election, and, of course, there will
be a public notice about when that will be. In the meantime, I would like to
take this opportunity to thank all of our witnesses, and this hearing is
adjourned. Thank you.