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Tbilisi. Notwithstanding a variety of shortcomings in recent months, it is clear that there is a competitive campaign underway in Georgia on the threshold of the parliamentary elections, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas O. Melia stated at the press- conference in Tbilisi on Wednesday, September 12.
The U.S. interagency delegation, led by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas O. Melia, arrived in Tbilisi on Monday to assess the pre-election situation in the country. During the visit the delegation held meetings with representatives of the authorities and political parties of the country.
"Our delegation has come to Georgia to highlight the importance of a democratic electoral process that results in a Parliament which reflects the will of the Georgian people. We met with a range of senior Georgian Government officials to urge that Georgia's electoral laws are implemented in a fair, impartial, and transparent manner, and to urge all political parties to fully participate in the process while abiding by the law", Thomas Melia noted during his speech, the press-service of the U.S. Embassy cites him as saying. .
According to him, the message that they have conveyed privately to the various stakeholders has been identical: The United States supports the Georgian people's aspirations for a free and fair democratic process. "We do not favor any particular party or candidate, and look forward to continued close cooperation with the leaders the Georgian people choose", he noted.
As the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State emphasizes, the upcoming elections are critical to helping Georgia advance its Euro-Atlantic aspirations. Domestic and international perceptions of fairness of the campaign environment, including adherence to the rule of law, media access, transparency, and fair play in the adjudication of disputes, will be important indicators of Georgia's democratic development.
According to Thomas Melia, the long term work of building a vibrant democracy is not over on election day.
He highlights the importance of several principles that, all of which are essential for a meaningful electoral processes:
A level playing field: it is essential that the political environment is conducive to full participation in the campaign by all parties on equal terms.
A principle of Rule of Law and Due Process: according to Melia, in their meetings with the Georgian Government and the political parties, they stressed the importance of ensuring that campaign and election laws were applied equally and transparently, and that all participants were held to the same high standards of conduct as spelled out in Georgian law. At the same time, they urged political parties to participate constructively, follow the law scrupulously, and to pursue their political goals at the ballot box.
The next principle is respect for fundamental freedoms: respect for peaceful protests and freedom of assembly is a hallmark of democratic society. All parties should renounce violence and avoid provocations.
Melia emphasized importance of the principle "Access to media". The delegation applauded the electoral reforms enacted late last year that expanded access of parties to the mass media during the 60 day campaign. "More recently, we were encouraged to see the implementation of "Must Carry" legislation during the campaign period and we strongly support its extension through the post-election grievance process and beyond. Efforts to promote wider access to a diversity of opinions and media outlets would reflect fundamental values democracies share", the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State noted.
The next principle is constructive engagement. As Melia noted, they had every expectation, based on the political parties commitment to contain any violence and the government's commitment that security forces would be scrupulously professional, that election day and its immediate aftermath would unfold peacefully.
Melia reminded all parties that after October 1, they would need to work together constructively in the new parliament to advance Georgia's democratic and economic development, and they should conduct their campaigns in that spirit.
The representative of the U.S. Department of State called on all participants to work to ensure that the Georgian people judge the elections as free and fair. "We commend the work of domestic and international observation groups, including principally OSCE/ODIHR, to help ensure the election process is transparent and consistent with international standards and the results reflect the will of the Georgian people", he stressed.