One of the key issues that International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy focuses on within the framework of the electoral reform is staffing of the electoral management body. To promote public trust towards the electoral management body, the process of staffing should be impartial and transparent.
Non-governmental organizations and political parties have been requesting revision of the EMB staffing procedures for many years. We regret that no changes have been made in this regard. The latest large-scale competition for selection of District Electoral Commission members has demonstrated yet again shortcomings in selection process and confirmed the need to revise applicable procedures.
• Shortcomings in the process of competition for selection of District Electoral Commission members
In December 2015, the Central Election Administration (CEC) announced a competition for selection of District Electoral Commission (DEC) members. By virtue of the Election Code of Georgia, there are 13 members in a district electoral commission, including 5 selected by the CEC for the term of five years. Total number of these permanent DEC members is 380. The competition was announced because of expiration of the five-year term for 193 members.
On January 4, 2014, the CEC amended the Regulations for Competition to Select District Electoral Commission Members, allowing NGOs to monitor the process of selection. We welcome the amendment because it promotes transparency of the competition.
Nevertheless, we found significant shortcomings in the competition process. Although by virtue of the Regulations, it is the aim of the competition to determine the degree of compatibility of a candidate’s professional skillset, qualifications and capacities with requirements for a particular position, under Article 8 of the Regulations, interviews are not mandatory for the selection process and the CEC decides about compatibility of each candidate’s qualifications with the requirements without meeting the candidate first. In addition, the CEC is authorized to request an interview with a candidate.
In the case in question, the CEC did not request interviews with any of the candidates, on grounds that there were too many candidates (total of 771) and too short a time. In light of this, if the CEC considered that all candidates who were shortlisted for voting met applicable legal requirements, it is unclear how exactly the CEC members decided who to vote for and which candidate to prefer based on application only, without interviews or selection criteria.
Although the CEC voted during an open meeting and NGOs present at the meeting were able to freely monitor the process, the reasons why the CEC members chose to vote for particular candidates were not clear. It begs the question of how exactly were the CEC members able to evaluate professional skills, qualifications and capacities of candidates based on application materials only. The most important part of the process – substantiation and fairness of decisions made about each individual candidate took place behind closed doors. Competition that followed such rules gives rise to suspicions about validity and fairness of decisions. We believe that in absence of interviews and criteria for selection of candidates, it was impossible to evaluate candidates comprehensively, and make substantiated decisions.