2016 Parliamentary Elections

Pro-Russian party may face constitutional ban for its campaign promises

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On August 13, a political ad of the new party "Centrists Khachishvili-Bedukadze,” which is led by Vladimer Bedukadze, aired on the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB). The party messages in the ad are centered on Russia. It promises Russian funded pensions of 400 GEL a month; advocates creating a double citizenship law that will allow Georgians to receive Russian citizenship; and promises that if the party wins the elections, they will allow Russian military bases in Georgia. The advertisement caused widespread outrage. The Public Broadcaster said it was obliged by law to air the ad according to the Election Code.

Vladimer Bedukadze was involved in leaking videos in September 2012 that showed guards torturing inmates in Georgian prisons; the videos caused major public anti-government protests in the month leading up to the October 2012 parliamentary elections. Reportedly Bedukadze’s was involved in recording the videos. An arrest warrant was issued for Bedukadze and he was detained upon arrival in Georgia in 2013; he was soon let go by the Prosecutor's Office when his case was settled by a plea bargain. Bedukadze’s political aide, Temur Khachishvili, was Interior Minister from 1992-1993, and a member of the infamous Mkhedrioni paramilitary group that was dismantled by President Shevardnadze. Khachishvili was imprisoned for organizing a terrorist act in 1995; he was pardoned in 2002. He appeared again in the public eye in 2011 when the Interior Ministry accused him of running an illegal armed group during 2011 street protests. Khachishvili returned to Georgia after the Georgian Dream came to power in late 2012.

Unlike Bedukadze’s “Centrists,” other pro-Russian parties in Georgia, such as Nino Burjanadze's Party and the Patriots' Alliance, refrain from giving election promises that tie Georgia to Russia so closely. Their rhetoric is based on having better relations with Russia and a pro-Russian foreign policy, but not a Russian base on Georgian territory.

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On August, 13 the News and Current Affairs director at the Public Broadcaster, Giorgi Gvimradze, responded to the criticism about the political ad, saying that by law, the GPB is obliged to give airtime to all political parties. Gvimradze also noted that the broadcaster does not associate with the content of the political ads, and called upon the relevant agencies to investigate the legality of the commercial. The National Agency for Communications said it will look into the case. Meanwhile, the GBP ceased playing the ad.

Representatives of major civil society groups, of the government, and the opposition commented on the new political ad.

On August 15, the United National Movement member Sergi Kapanadze blamed the Georgian Dream government of spreading pro-Russian propaganda: "This is a government that allows for pro-Russian forces in Georgia, such as political parties and non-governmental organizations,” he said. “The government directly finances media outlets that spread Russian propaganda and Russian messages.” Kapanadze explained Bedukadze’s support from the government the government: "They [the government] made a hero of Bedukadze. Not only was he not held responsible for crimes such as torture and cruel treatment, instead he received privileges, he is guarded by special state protection services, owns a news agency, and his party did not encounter any difficulties getting publicity and becoming a topic of discussion. He is also most likely funded by the government since he is cooperating with Khaindrava's Studio,” Kapanadze said. Bedukadze is a consultant for the new political film directed by Goga Khaindrava, called 9+1. The films is supposed to present the  "nine bloody years" of the Saakashvili government. Bedukadze also owns the Marshalpress news agency.

Kapanadze said that the UNM will request the Constitutional Court to study the constitutionality of Bedukadze's campaign. The Georgian Dream also plans to appeal to the Court with a similar claim.

The Georgian election watchdog group, the International Society for Free Elections and Democracy (ISFED), plans to appeal the Tbilisi City Court's decision to allow Bedukadze to run for elections. Tbilisi City Court had decided that the Bendukadze party's campaign -- and particularly the promise of 400 GEL Russian-funded pension -- was a sincere demonstration of the party's vision and is not considered as vote buying. ISFED said in a statement that it will submit an appeal on the grounds of pre-election "vote buying" and "illegal agitation campaign.”

Georgian Dream representative Gia Volski commented on Bedukadze's political campaign, asking the relevant authorities to outlaw his Centrists party. Volski said that the Georgian Dream will approach the Constitutional Court to discuss the constitutionality of the party and its promises. He said that Bedukadze's party's “rhetoric is unacceptable for the Georgian Dream.”

Furthermore, Prime Minister Kvirikashvili issued a statement calling on the media not to spreading the anti-state propaganda. He said that the Georgian Dream government “does everything” to ensure the independence of the media, but that “independence does not mean irresponsibility." Kvirikashvili called upon the Public Broadcaster to use judgement before airing content.

The Georgian Dream's new public face, Tamar Chugoshvili (formerly the head of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, and adviser to Bidzina Ivanishvili) concurred about the Public Broadcaster. She began by saying that the Prosecutor General made a mistake to settle Bedukadze’s case by a plea bargain: "The decision [Prosecutor General] Kbilashvili made was a mistake... however this is not the issue anymore. The issue is that the Public Broadcaster airs such a video that is against state interests. The population of this country should not be viewing the content that is depicted in this video.”

Bedukadze has responded to the criticism against his party, calling his opponents "traitors of the state" and stating that he the only people he is willing to listen to are  Patriarch Ilia II and Bidzina Ivanishvili.  

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