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The initiative of the Prime Minister is evaluated as an unprecedented voter-bribing

21.11.2018

Lana Giorgidze

The second round of the 2018 Presidential Elections is scheduled on November 28. Nine days before the second round, the ruling party announced that more than 600 000 citizens of Georgia will have their loans in banks, online and other financial organizations annulled by December 31, 2018. 

Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze announced that the process of write-off debts will start on December 15 and will be over by December 31. He added that the process will be carried out with financial support of the Cartu Foundation. 

“Thanks to the Cartu Foundation. Without their support, we would not be able to realize this significant initiative. I want to clarify to the society that almost 95% of the debts registered in the so-called “black lists” belong to the category of debts, whose principle payment amount does not exceed 2 000 GEL. We speak about the financial responsibilities of more than 600 000 citizens of Georgia in front of banks, online and other financial institutions. Total amount of their debt is approximately 1.5 billion GEL. With the today’s decision, our citizens will have their debts annulled. It is noteworthy that the socially indigent people and people with disabilities will benefit from this initiative. We are working on the data base of debtors. The process of write-off debts will start on December 15 and will be over by December 31,” Mamuka Bakhtadze said.

The new initiative, which was evaluated by the PM as a tool to defeat the poverty, was assessed as unprecedented vote buying by the Georgian nongovernmental organizations. 

“The decision announced by the government contains signs of vote buying and is directed in favor of Salome Zurabishvli, the candidate supported by the ruling party and aims at winning the heart of voters before the second tour of the election. In accordance with the Criminal Code of Georgia, for election purposes, indirect or direct offering or promising of money, securities (including a financial instrument), other property, property rights, services or any other advantages, or knowingly accepting the above noted, or making a fraudulent, hypocritical or other kind of deals in order to avoid the restrictions imposed by law – envisages imprisonment for up to three years or the fine. It is noteworthy that such a scale of allege vote buying is unprecedented for Georgia. The initiative, considering its scale, will undoubtedly affect the results of the election.

It is true that Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is the chairman of the party Georgian Dream, is not mentioned in the registration documents of the Cartu Group, however, for the society, this organization is associated with him and his family. Besides, the chairperson of the board of Cartu Foundation directly states that the decision noted is taken by Bidzina Ivanishvili. Consequently, the announcement made by the representatives of the government on the repayment of such a scale and amount of financial loan by the Cartu Group before the second round of the elections, will be naturally associated with Bidzina Ivanishvili and his campaigning in favor of Salome Zurabishvili,” the statement of three NGOs – Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, Transparency International – Georgia and the International Society for Free and Fair Elections, reads.
 
Mikheil Benidze, executive director of the ISFED, believes that the initiative of the government to write off the debts is bribery of voters. He added that the prosecutor’s office shall examine any fact of bribery, when the amount of offered money exceeds 100 GEL. 

The Parliamentary Minority invited the PM and the Minister of Finances to the Parliament to clarify the issue about writing off the debts. The MPs from opposition parties request detailed explanation what the government’s initiative mean and what is their plan. The opposition doubts such initiatives in the pre-election period aims to mislead the population and mobilize votes in favor of the ruling party. 

Communications management specialist Archil Gamzardia believes the initiative of the ruling party is evident voter-bribing. 

“When such an initiative is announced several days before the elections, it clearly demonstrates the aim of the government to get mass satisfaction and loyalty of the electorate and purchase votes in exchange of the initiative. Consequently, it is clear that it is bribery of voters; we are speaking about more than 600 000 persons. 

Apart to that, this initiative discriminates those citizens, who did their best to pay all their debts honestly and now the Georgian Dream fooled them; this initiative encouraged a feeling that anybody can take a loan and not pay it. 

If they were focused on the interests of people, their initiative should have been politically neutral. They should have made announcement on November 30, as the process will start from December. As it was done before the elections, it is ordinary voter-buying, at the same time discriminative,” Archil Gamzardia said.

HRC lawyer Aleksi Merebashvili states that the initiative of the PM was voter-buying. 

“The Election Code clearly states that attracting a voter with financial resources is voter-buying. In this light, I believe that the initiative of the Prime Minister is voter-buying,” Aleksi Merebashvili said.

He added that for election purposes, giving, offering, promising, assigning money, financial instruments, other properties, right on property, service or other material possessions (irrespective of their value) to the citizens of Georgia, personally or through other persons; or to accept similar benefits or to reach fraud or swindle agreement to avoid the legal restrictions is punishable by imprisonment up to three years in length or with a fine. 

According to the statement of the NGOs, GYLA, TI-Georgia and ISFED, the initiative is also directed by narrow party-related and political interests, which negatively affect not only the electoral environment, but also the democratic development of the country. The use of hard social conditions of voters by the political party for election purpose is unacceptable and demonstrates the low political culture.

They called on the government to refrain from adopting populist and narrow political decisions and draw out a fundamental approach to overcome the poverty of citizens instead of manipulating with the financial problems of voters; and all political parties to realize their role and responsibility and refrain from making such populist statements; The Georgian Prosecutor`s Office to investigate the fact timely and objectively and respond with relevant legal action.

The presidential candidate Salome Zurabishvili echoed the initiative of the Government, who stated that she also spoke about the problem of indebtedness and is happy with the initiative.

“I several times spoke about this issue. I spoke about the gravity of this problem in the country during my pre-election campaign as a majoritarian MP candidate, as anyone can take a loan through internet. It needs regulations and I am happy that we are going in that direction,” Zurabishvili told media.

The Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia said it was private agreement of the Government of Georgia with regard to write-off of the debts of black-listed citizens. However, the CPO told Netgazeti that they will examine the case and if there are any signs of crimes, they will act accordingly.

The second round of the Presidential Elections is scheduled on November 28 and it will become clear whether the PM’s initiative affects the decision of the voters and whether the GD supported presidential candidate Salome Zurabishvili wins the elections, who gained about 39% of votes in the first round of the elections. 

In addition, it is vogue and untransparent, what kind of negotiations have been held with the banking sector and various financial institutions regarding the debts write-off. The deal to purchase 1.5 billion financial liabilities from commercial banks for 100 million, might rise additional doubts concerning the banking and financial businesses participation in the state`s dishonest influences. The fact is that the agreement would be difficult to achieve without the state involvement and the question is whether would it be possible at all having another person instead of Ivanishvili-related ,,Kartu’’ Foundation.

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