Georgia’s Election Committee Disqualifies Pro-Russian Centrist Party

TBILISI - Georgia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) Chair Tamar Zhvania announced Tuesday that the controversial pro-Russian Centrist Party has been barred from taking part in the upcoming October Parliamentary Elections following the party’s release of a campaign ad promoting integration with Moscow.

Zhvania said the party’s leadership had failed to legally register themselves and would be barred from running in the October polls.

“The Centrists’ leadership is not legal, therefore I signed a decree cancelling the registration of the party," said Tamar Zhvania at a special briefing.

Prior to the CEC’s decision, the ruling Georgian Dream coalition and the country’s main opposition parties appealed to the CEC to ban the party after a Centrist campaign advertisement aired on Georgia’s Public Broadcaster on August 13 that featured a Russian flag, Russian soldiers and a photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin, with a voiceover message that promised “Russian pensions, a dual citizenship law with Moscow and Russian military bases inside Georgia’s borders."

The public broadcaster immediately suspended the advertisement, saying “it (the ad) contains messages that threaten Georgia’s sovereignty and contradicts the Constitution.”

On Saturday, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) filed a motion with the Tbilisi City Court to ban the Centrists from taking part in the parliamentary elections, but their motion was rejected.

The ISFED, Georgian Dream and the opposition Republican and United National Movement (UNM) parties said they would appeal the court’s decision.

The Centrists Party was first registered in June, led by Temur Khachishvili and Lado Bedukadze.

Khachishvili is a former interior minister and warlord in the Mkhedrioni militia, heavily armed groups that terrorized civilians in the early 1990s during the rule of Georgia’s first President, Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

Khachishvili spent seven years in prison after being found guilty of plotting to kill former President Eduard Shevardnadze.

He released from jail in 2002 and lived in Russia for the next decade before returning to Georgia when the Georgian Dream came to power.

A former prison guard, Bedukadze published several videos that allegedly showed inmates being tortured just two weeks before the 2012 elections.

The videos were credited for having tipped the election in favor of the Georgian Dream.

Bedukadze had been charged by the previous UNM government for his own involvement in the torture of prisoners.

His case was dropped, however, after Bedukadze made a plea bargain with the courts after the Georgian Dream came to power, in exchange for his full cooperation.

By Thea Morrison

Edited by Nicholas Waller

16 August 2016 16:30