Q-n about the event
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: I’m very pleased to be here today with Nino Dolidze of ISFED and the German Ambassador, representatives from civil society, from political parties, from public institutions to discuss the role of social media in Georgia’s coming elections in the electoral cycle. These local elections in October are the next test of Georgia’s democratic process and its electoral process, and everyone wants to see that they go smoothly, and the outcome is something that all voters have confidence in. I think that Georgian political leaders negotiated a good roadmap that is reflected in electoral reform provisions in the April 19th Agreement, and we are also working with different parties and stakeholders on social media and the impact that it has, both positive and negative, in terms of informing voters. So, we really hope that the coming elections in October are going to see less hate speech, less disinformation and false information, and more of the benefits of social media in terms of informing voters about what party platforms are, what they plan to do about the priorities for Georgian voters. Thank you.
Q-n about appointing judges despite call for pause in the process by international partners
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: More important than my calls to pause this process is the commitment that Georgia’s political leaders made by signing and negotiating the April 19th Agreement which provides this process will be paused until the reforms are enacted. And before the reforms are enacted, they also agreed to have a robust debate about what kind of judicial reforms are needed. That is what we expect. A deal is a deal. They negotiated this deal and they agreed to pause this process until a fulsome debate about judicial reforms had. Georgia’s constitution clearly states that the judiciary shall be independent. That is a very serious commitment and a promise to the Georgian people. The constitution provides most of the procedures and processes for ensuring an independent judiciary are made through common laws, the law on common courts, and other laws that are within the purview of the parliament to enact and adjust. The parliament now has the obligation and a responsibility under the constitution and under the April 19th Agreement to pause this appointment process to ensure that there is a debate, to ensure that there is an assessment of previous reforms — that is also provided for the April 19th Agreement — so that Georgians can be confident that their judiciary as strong and as independent as the constitution requires. I think that this is a responsibility that I hope the members of parliament take very seriously. As I have said before, there have been independent assessments that concluded that it will not bring the system to a crashing halt to pause this process. There are sufficient judges in place to allow for a thorough review what kind of additional reforms would strengthen and improve Georgia’s judiciary. That is all anybody is talking about that here and that is what the parties committed to do in the agreement they negotiated. Thank you.
Q-n about the ongoing discussion of electoral reform bill at parliament and Venice Commission recommendations being incorporated or not
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: The April 19th Agreement provides a good roadmap for electoral reform. Again, this was negotiated by political leaders over six months, and we were very pleased to see that parliamentary working group on electoral reform was more inclusive than in the past and gave the civil society and other stakeholders, as well as opposition, the opportunity to debate the issues, to contribute really shape the electoral reform bill to reflect everyone’s interests and concerns. It is very important to have the Venice Commission recommendations. It is worth emphasizing that the elements of the April 19th Agreement also reflect previous Venice Commission recommendations and ODHIR recommendations that had not been incorporated. What I think would be a good sign here is if all of the recommendations the outstanding ones and most recent ones are incorporated and instead of just some of them. This is the best way to ensure that this electoral reform bill is really comprehensive and addresses a lot of the shortages that have raised questions about previous elections. I think we are all a little puzzled as to why the electoral reform bill came on the agenda at 10 o’clock last night but it was a good start and I understand that there was a good discussion that I hope that will continue and produce a bill that the opposition, the ruling party, civil society, other stakeholders — most importantly Georgian voters — can see is going to improve the electoral process here. Thank you.