Briefing :: Elections in the Caucasus: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia

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Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe:  
U.S. Helsinki Commission

Democratization in the Caucasus: 
Elections in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia

Witnesses:
Tom de Waal, 
Senior Associate, 
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Dr. Cory Welt, 
Associate Director, 
Institute for European, Russian and 
Eurasian Studies, George Washington University

Christopher Walker, 
Vice President for Strategy and Analysis, 
Freedom House

Stephen B. Nix, 
Regional Director for Eurasia, 
International Republican Institute (IRI)

Anthony Bowyer, 
Program Manager for Caucasus and Central Asia, 
International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)

The Hearing Was Held From 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. in 334 Cannon House Office 
Building, Washington, D.C., Mark S. Milosch, Staff Director, Helsinki 
Commission, Moderating 

Date:  Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C. 
MARK S. MILOSCH:  Good afternoon, and welcome to everyone joining us today for 
this – for this briefing on –

(Off-side conversation.)

MR. MILOSCH:  One moment, excuse me.

(Off-side conversation.)

MR. MILOSCH:  Good afternoon, and welcome to everyone joining us today for this 
briefing on this year’s and next year’s elections in Armenia, Azerbaijan and 
Georgia.  As Chairman Smith’s staff director at the Helsinki Commission, I’ll 
make a brief statement.  And then Dr. Michael Ochs, policy adviser at the 
Helsinki Commission, will introduce our panelists and moderate the discussion.

Last December the commission held a briefing that looked at unresolved 
conflicts in the Caucasus.  Now we turn our attention to elections in the 
Caucasus.  The latest electoral cycle began in Armenia, which held 
parliamentary elections on May 6.  Georgia’s parliamentary elections are 
scheduled for October.  In 2013 Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia will all hold 
presidential elections.

These exercises in participatory democracy are intended to serve as a gauge of 
public opinion and provide a mandate for governing.  But elections in the 
region have been deeply flawed the past and may be a given – and may be again, 
given political polarization and problematic government-opposition relations in 
all three countries, which have been marked by mutual distrust and even strong 
antipathy.

In the Armenian election three weeks ago, perhaps the most important thing is 
what did not happen.  Unlike the presidential election of 2008, there was, 
thankfully, no violence.  The ruling party retained its dominant position, and 
once again the opposition claimed fraud.  The OSCE, while noting various 
improvements, expressed concern about continuing problems.

In Azerbaijan elections have not met OSCE standards, and the last parliamentary 
election produced a legislature with almost no opposition representation.  The 
authorities and opposition have been contending for years about the election 
law.  We will have an opportunity today – and even though the next election is 
still more than a year away – to get a sense of where things stand and whether 
anything can be done to help create a level playing field that would promote 
better elections.

In Georgia the government and opposition have long been negotiating about the 
election law and voting procedures.  It will come as no surprise to anyone in 
this audience that the upcoming Georgian election has received unusual 
attention, including in the mainstream U.S. media.  Today we hope to get a 
readout from our panel on the state of play several months before the October 
vote.

Although we are going to be examining the three Caucasus countries today, I 
want to indicate at the outset that it is not our intention to compare them to 
each other.  Insofar as we make comparisons, each should be measured against 
the international human rights agreements and OSCE commitments which they have 
all assumed.

Finally, elections are obviously a reflection of the overall state of democracy 
in any given country.  I trust our panelists, who have a great deal of 
experience in the region under discussion, will elaborate on progress toward 
democratization, or rather in so many respects the lack of progress in Armenia, 
Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Since we’re looking at three countries with a complicated political 
environment, we’ve invited a panel of regional experts and leading U.S. NGOs 
working with political parties and elections.

Before turning our – to our witnesses, I would like to note that next week 
Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia will celebrate independence or republic days.  
So I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate all three countries on 
this happy anniversary and to wish them the best.

Now I’ll turn the briefing over to Michael Ochs, who as I mentioned is the 
policy adviser at the commission who covers the Caucasus.  Michael will 
introduce the panel and moderate it.

MICHAEL OCHS:  Thank you, Mark.

I’m going to give brief introductions of our witnesses.  Their full bios are on 
the Helsinki Commission website.  And we’re going to do this alphabetically, so 
we’ll be starting with Anthony Bowyer, who is the program manager for the 
Caucasus and Central Asia at IFES, the International Foundation for Election 
(sic; Electoral) Systems.

Anthony has more than 17 years of experience in designing and managing election 
assistance, civil society, civic education and political party development 
programs in the South Caucasus and Central Asia.  He’s worked extensively with 
political leaders, election officials, members of parliament, political party 
and civil society representatives, academics and students.  He’s also offered 
papers on parliament and political parties in Kazakhstan and Islamic movements 
and democracy in Central Asia.

Our next speaker will be Stephen B. Nix, who’s the regional director for 
Eurasia at the International Republican Institute or IRI.  Stephen joined IRI 
in October 2000 as regional director.  He oversees programs on Belarus, 
Georgia, Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine.  Previously he had 
served for two years as senior democracy specialist at USAID, and lived in Kiev 
for more than three years, where he was a legal counselor for IFES and also 
served as the outside legal counsel for the Committee on Legal Reform in the 
Ukrainian parliament.  I’d like to note also that Steve testified for us just 
last week on Ukraine, so he’s really doing yeoman’s service, and many thanks to 
him.

MR.:  (Inaudible) – he came back.

MR. OCHS:  (Chuckles.)  Next we have Thomas de Waal, who is a senior associate 
at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  He’s a well-known 
specialist on the Caucasus.  He’s the author most recently of “The Caucasus:  
An Introduction,” published by Oxford University Press.  He may be best known, 
however, for his authoritative book on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, called 
“Black Garden:  Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War,” which has been 
translated into Russian, Armenian and Azerbaijani.  Previously he was a 
reporter and foreign correspondent; worked for the BBC World Service and also 
the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and Conciliation Services.

Next we have Christopher Walker, who’s vice president for strategy and analysis 
at Freedom House, where he oversees a team of analysts and senior scholars in 
devising overall strategy for Freedom House’s analytical projects, including 
Nations in Transit, Democratization in East Central Europe and Eurasia, Freedom 
of the Press, a Global Survey of Media Independence, and Freedom on the Net:  A 
Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media.  In addition, he’s been widely 
published and previously was a senior associate at the EastWest Institute and 
is currently an adjunct professor of global affairs at New York University.

Finally we have Dr. Cory Welt, who’s the associate director and professorial 
lecturer at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George 
Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and an adjunct 
fellow at the Center for American Progress.  He’s published widely on Caucasus 
politics and security in journals like Journal of Democracy, Journal of 
Post-Soviet Democratization, Nonproliferation Review, et cetera.  Previously he 
was the associate director and director of the Eurasian Strategy Project at 
Georgetown, where he was also an assistant adjunct professor in the School of 
Foreign Service, and was also the deputy director and fellow of the Russia and 
Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS.

It’s a stellar cast, and we’re looking forward to hearing what they have to 
say.  We will start with Anthony.

ANTHONY BOWYER:  Thank you, Michael.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, members and staff of the Helsinki 
Commission.  My name is Anthony Bowyer, and I am program manager for the 
Caucasus and Central Asia at the International Foundation for Electoral 
Systems, also known as IFES.  It is a pleasure to be here today, and I would 
like to thank the commission for the opportunity to share some thoughts on 
democracy in the South Caucasus.  And I would ask that this statement and other 
IFES materials submitted to the commission be included in the record.

IFES is a global leader in democracy promotion.  We advance good governance and 
democratic rights by providing technical assistance to election officials, 
empowering the under-represented to participate in the political process and 
applying a field-based research.  Since 1987 IFES has worked in 135 countries 
ranging from developing to mature democracies.

I would like to present a few remarks on the election cycle and the broader 
issue of democracy in the three South Caucasus countries in terms of the 
perceived need for regime legitimacy.  While I would agree that one needs to 
consider the election cycle not in a vacuum but as part of a broader political 
process in each country, the elections nevertheless provide a snapshot of where 
they are on the scale of democracy development and where I believe they are 
going.  I also believe that the desire to democratize and promote inclusiveness 
and competition in the political realm is conditioned by several factors and 
revolves around the need for the respective governments to legitimize 
themselves both internally and externally.

Part of this is to engage a skeptical if not cynical public, which has become 
disillusioned with the elections and through which the countries would benefit 
from a more open process as evidence of their commitment to reform.  Another 
factor is the need to exhibit to outside states and current or potential, 
mainly Western, allies that they are reliable democratic partners.  However, 
the impetus in doing so may certainly bear elements of economic and/or security 
motivations as well.

Armenia, for example, from whence I just returned to observe the National 
Assembly elections and participate in a democracy assistance project, was 
concerned over how the elections to the National Assembly were perceived – were 
perceived at home and abroad.  I can say that the process was open and 
reasonably competitive.  And as the first national election since the crackdown 
following the February 2008 presidential vote, there was heightened sensitivity 
to public perceptions of the process.

The mechanics of the elections are important.  And this was, as well, the first 
national election held under the new election code and administered by a new 
Central Election Commission.  And indeed, while the results of the voting did 
yield gains for the ruling coalition, there were positive trends to mention as 
well, including this arguably being the most transparent election in the 
country’s history and with members of political parties occupying seats on 
precinct election commissions, with large numbers of party proxies and domestic 
observers present at every polling station.

While there were certainly errors made during the voting process and the vote 
count, it should be pointed out that that 70 percent of the precinct election 
commissioners were new.  And this is not unlike what happened in the Kyrgyz 
Republic during its most recent parliamentary elections, and I would add 
presidential, in two Octobers previously, which was also an open and at times 
chaotic process, but one that rightly drew the accolades of the international 
community.

But as I suspect my colleagues will agree, there are deeply rooted problems in 
Armenia that reinforce public cynicism and disillusionment.  This has to do 
with the decline of political and electoral culture in the country, and the 
public which has come to tolerate the buying and selling of votes, and the 
notion, particularly in the regions of the country, that elections are a 
moneymaking enterprise.  There is no overnight fix for this.  And low 
incentives to report incidences of the occurrence of vote-buying.  And 
elections in Armenia will never be perceived as entirely valid or legitimate 
until this ugly truth is confronted head-on by all political parties, in 
particular the ruling coalition.

While the National Assembly elections were important, the 2013 presidential 
election looms large for the country, in particular for President Sarkissian to 
seek the legitimacy that some suggested he did not receive after the 2008 vote 
– or deserve.  And the conduct of the upcoming vote will serve both as a 
barometer of the government’s pledge to conduct open elections and as a 
measuring stick for national healing and repair of the country’s political and 
electoral culture.

Georgia is a case where the legitimate evolution of the political and electoral 
process has been ongoing for some time already, with this October’s 
parliamentary vote and especially the 2013 presidential vote serving as key 
benchmarks in that process.  Though at times the process of reform in Georgia 
has been labored and the commitment of the government questioned, the Georgians 
have engaged deeply with all electoral stakeholders in the country, as well as 
with members of the international community – (inaudible) – even – to create an 
even playing field.  And there is ample evidence of this in the degrees of 
cooperation on issues ranging from voter registration upgrades to campaign 
finance reform and enforcement.

This openness is being put to the test presently in the case of billionaire 
oppositionist Bidzina Ivanishvili and his newly registered political party, 
Georgian Dream, which represents, I believe, a clear and present danger for the 
United National Movement.  But given Georgia’s precarious security situation in 
a growing but still fragile economy, the country has much at stake in ensuring 
a credible, legitimate electoral process, one in which the United National 
Movement, like any ruling party, will campaign hard to prevail in.

But the margin of error is smaller for the UNM than it was for the ruling 
Republican Party in Armenia.  Expectations are higher in Georgia and of the 
Georgian citizens themselves to take the next steps and demonstrate a 
commitment to European-style electoral democracy.  But for its part, the 
government of Georgia and the UNM has much more to lose in terms of credibility 
if heavy-handed tactics during the elections are employed.  And it must come to 
terms with the very real possibility that a significant parliamentary 
opposition may emerge as a result of the October vote.  This should be seen, 
though, as a net positive, in my view.  It is incumbent on the part of what 
could be the leading opposition voice, Georgian Dream, to be realistic about 
its own prospects and to not get caught up in a zero-sum argument with the UNM.

Perhaps even more so than Armenia, the upcoming elections in Georgia will serve 
as a demonstration of how that country – how far that country has come in its 
democratic development, not necessarily in terms of individual results but in 
terms of the process that precedes the vote and how all aspects of the voting 
experience – in particular, the dispute resolution process – is handled.  The 
stakes are high in Georgia.  While the state’s desire for legitimacy by the 
international community and domestic entities is exceptionally high, so too is 
the measuring bar.  And it remains to be seen whether the country will, in 
fact, live up to its own high expectations.

On the extreme other end of the spectrum, Azerbaijan remains a case in which 
the government’s perception of the need to legitimize its rule is not 
particularly high.  With revenues from oil production still flowing into state 
coffers, the country feels slightly more secure in maintaining far stricter 
control over the political process, not unlike the experience of Kazakhstan and 
its recent election cycle.

This is not to say that people are happy with the election process in Armenia 
(sic).  Quite the opposite, in fact.  The lack of political freedom in the 
country and the restrictions on opposition activities and control of the media 
remain high, and expectations at this point in time are low for a competitive 
and vibrant election cycle next year when voters will elect a president of the 
country.

But even in Azerbaijan, the details of the election process are important and 
should not be entirely dismissed.  While the political will may be lacking, 
there are areas in which reforms have taken place that, when change eventually 
comes, will serve as important elements of trust-building and confidence by 
voters that their voices can hopefully be heard.

As I was reminded recently, there is an expression in Georgia – pardon me, in 
Azerbaijan – that one drop after another will make a lake; while those drops at 
present may not seem much more than a puddle, at this point the door is open, 
perhaps slightly, nevertheless, to encourage continued reform of the election 
system and best practices.

Until real political will and a genuine desire and need to create legitimacy in 
the political process emerges, however, based on internal demands and – or 
external necessity, Azerbaijan remains behind its Caucasus neighbors, far 
behind, in many respects, in terms of democratic development.

I believe that all of the countries are affected to varying degrees by official 
corruption and spoiling of their political and electoral culture, which has 
been forged over many years now, and which has become to be accepted as a 
byproduct of participatory democracy.  As much as the governments of the region 
need to be continued and encouraged to liberalize and do so genuinely, which 
may lessen the dominant control of the ruling elite but serve as an enhancer of 
overall legitimacy to its citizens, the need to combat a largely apathetic and 
cynical electorate in each country requires a deeper commitment that will 
continue to take time, honest effort and unrequited dedication.

The international community, led by the United States, and working through 
U.S.-funded democracy assistance providers, needs to continue, even in lean 
budget times, to encourage best practices and work with governmental as well as 
nongovernmental actors in a policy of strategic engagement.  U.S. government 
policy has been and should continue to be in the lead in holding our Caucasus 
allies accountable and encouraging them to fulfill the obligations to 
democratic development to which they have repeatedly pledged their commitment.

In conclusion, let me say that U.S.-funded democracy assistance is impactful, 
but its absence – or removal, in some cases – has and would have a deleterious 
effect on the process of accountability and democratic reform across the 
region.  International assistance is needed to preserve and advance significant 
reform, progress made so far in Georgia, and to a lesser though important 
degree in Armenia, plus renew engagement with Azerbaijan, and to utilize 
momentum to continue with democratization initiatives.  Media monitoring, 
international observation and providing support to local watchdog civil society 
organizations is essential to the transparency of the electoral process and the 
greater process of – and task of democracy-building.  While the present 
situation in each of the countries is far from ideal on the whole, the 
opportunity to continue pushing the countries to honor their obligations to 
democracy is both genuine and vital.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.

MR. OCHS:  Thank you.  

Steve?

STEPHEN NIX:  First of all, thank you, Michael, for this opportunity.  It’s a 
real honor to again appear before the commission.  And our thanks go out to the 
commission for convening this event on a very important part of the world.  
It’s important to America’s strategic interests what takes place, particular in 
the area of democracy in the Caucasus.  I’ll focus my remarks today on Georgia, 
and I’ll go into some detail.  I would ask that my remarks be entered into the 
formal record.

Ladies and gentlemen, the next year and a half will be critical for Georgia's 
democratic development.  Since the snap elections in 2008, the Georgian 
government has made significant steps forward in securing the legitimacy of 
their elections.  In October 2010 parliament adopted a slate of constitutional 
reforms designed to realign the system of government away from a presidential 
system and towards a parliamentary one.  These reforms will take place 
following the presidential election in 2013.  A new election code was adopted 
in December 2011 and went into effect in early 2012 in order to provide 
sufficient time for all parties to adapt to the new regulations.

Unlike the snap elections in 2008, these elections occur in the natural 
election cycle.  This means, again, political parties, and in particular 
opposition parties, have had time to prepare.  And parties have been actively 
preparing.  In the last two years opposition parties have been active in the 
regions on an unprecedented scale.  Parties like the Christian Democratic 
Movement have greatly increased their activities in the regions.  Other 
parties, most notably the Free Democrats and the Republicans, now part of the 
Georgian Dream coalition, have done the same.

IRI is cognizant of this dynamic and has been actively working with all major 
political parties to train their activists in advance of the elections.  This 
is especially important because interest in these elections remains very high.  
The most recent IRI poll conducted in Georgia indicates that 89 percent of 
voters, of citizens, say they will turn out to vote on election day.

With these stakes in mind, I’d like to focus on some positive steps that have 
been taken in the electoral process, I’d like to point out some areas of 
concern, and then finally, I would like to discuss some recommendations as to 
next steps for all interested parties.

With regard to positive developments, in November 2011 President Saakashvili 
signed a decree to set up a 21-member Voter List Verification Commission.  The 
commission is multipartisan.  It’s opposition-chaired and includes seven 
representatives each from UNM, opposition parties and Georgian NGOs.

To address some of the potential violations during the pre-election period, the 
Georgian government announced that it would establish an interagency task force 
for free and fair elections.  The task force will be chaired by the secretary 
of the National Security Council, and its membership will be comprised of 
representatives of various government ministries.  The group will be charged 
with fostering coordination among government agencies and promoting dialogue 
between the government and all shareholders in the election process.

Another positive change is the new method of awarding party list seats to 
political parties that cross the 5 percent threshold.  Under the old system, 
barely crossing the threshold only ensured receipt of one to two seats in 
parliament.  Under the new system, any party that gains the minimum 5 percent 
will be automatically granted six seats.  This will be enough for individual 
parties to form their own factions within parliament.

There are several areas of concern underlying all the progress that I’ve just 
stated.

Regarding the general election process, there are concerns that the election 
code did not go far enough to address issues that were set forth by the Venice 
Commission and others.  One of the primary criticisms has been the inequality 
in size of election districts.  In some rural areas, parliamentary districts 
can be as small as 6,000 constituents, while large Tbilisi districts can be as 
large as 150,000 constituents.  Though the new election code did consolidate 
several smaller districts, it still did not address the larger problem by 
realigning parliamentary districts nationwide.  This continued inequality in 
size of districts perpetuates a perception that not every vote is equal.

In December 2011 the parliament adopted a new law regarding the funding of 
political parties.  Although the restrictions were only supposed to be applied 
prospectively, the newly created Chamber of Control of Georgia began 
investigating several organizations based on events that took place as long as 
many years ago.

Another prospective issue of concern is the degree to which Georgian opposition 
parties will be able to campaign freely in the coming months.  There have been 
reports that opposition, constituent meetings and activities have been met with 
resistance from local leadership.  With elections only a few months away, the 
government in Tbilisi must move swiftly and make it absolutely clear that such 
repression is to be neither permitted nor tolerated in a campaign environment.

Now, I would like conclude with some recommendations for next steps.

First, it’s of paramount importance that events on election day are considered 
to be free, fair and transparent.  However, it’s vital that the entire election 
campaign also meet international standards.  In the past a good election day 
has frequently been considered sufficient, but the United States and Europe 
would be remiss to allow such a standard this time.  With the emergence of a 
third major political force, this election will no doubt be highly contested 
nationwide.  Governments and international organizations, both here and Europe, 
must be as vigilant and proactive during the pre-election campaign period as 
they are on election day.

For their part, the Georgian government must maintain a fair and even-handed 
election environment.  The government has repeatedly spoken of a desire to have 
fair elections and to allow all parties the opportunity to campaign and 
mobilize their followers.  These words must be matched with deeds.  Finally, 
there must be a clearly demonstrated commitment on the part of the Central 
Election Commission and the judiciary to effectively address complaints and 
appeals fairly and well before election day.

Georgian political parties have their own responsibilities.  A party that is 
focused on what will happen if they lose cannot, by necessity, be entirely 
focused on winning.  Georgian elections have rarely been lost gracefully, but 
regardless of who emerges victorious in October, that is the only way for the 
process to continue moving forward.

Finally, there is an especially large burden on the international community 
this time around.  The government and the opposition have expressly requested 
the presence of international observers for both long-term and short-term 
observation, and the United States and Europe must respond accordingly.

Thank you, and I’ll be available to answer any questions you might have.  Thank 
you very much.

MR. OCHS:  Thank you, Steve.  Tom?

THOMAS DE WAAL:  Thank you, Michael.  And I’d also like to begin by thanking 
the Helsinki Commission for inviting me to this briefing today.

I just want to begin my remarks by stating my commitment to balance and 
objectivity.  I do have the mixed fortune of having a fairly high profile in 
Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, and I try to use that status to be 
constructively critical.  Governments in particular can react badly to this, 
but I hope they’re gradually learning that constructive criticism from Western 
experts is a fact of life – even, I might say, a mark of respect – as they 
aspire to join Euro-Atlantic structures.

I would summarize my view as being a kind of consensus view  that in terms of 
democracy, all three South Caucasus countries are, to a greater or lesser 
degree, closer to the Russian model of a one-party state with “managed 
democracy” than to the European democratic model.  Within the spectrum, 
Azerbaijan is the most authoritarian and Georgia the most democratic, with 
Armenia somewhere in between.  I would argue that this, in fact, has been the 
case since the mid-1990s.

It’s important to stress that at home, none of the three governments make a 
strong pitch to be – to emphasize their democratic credentials.  If they talk 
up their achievements to their own electorate, it’s generally in terms of 
successful state-building, service provision, law and order, and so on.  I 
would add there have been indeed many successes in those fields, but that’s not 
our discussions today.  Conversations about democracy are more likely to take 
place with foreign interlocutors or in foreign capitals at events like this one.

A system has developed which you might call a one-party system by consent 
whereby the ruling party strives to govern with the consent of the governed, 
but it is hard to conceive of a scenario in which the governing party gives up 
power willingly.  It is still hard to imagine even Georgia holding an election 
as free as the one we saw, for example, in Serbia last weekend, where the 
favorite incumbent candidate was unseated by an opposition challenge.  In fact, 
since independence we have not seen a single election in Armenia, Azerbaijan, 
or Georgia over the last 20 years in which an incumbent has lost power or the 
governing party has lost its majority in parliament.  Ironically, the freest 
elections in these countries in recent times happened right at the end of the 
Soviet era in 1990 and 1991.

Elections are important and they provide a kind of health check on the state of 
democracy in these countries.  The coming elections in Georgia are an 
especially big test for that country.  They’re the most important elections 
since 2003, and how they go will in many ways define the next phase of 
Georgia's development.

But I also want to make the point here that we should not focus too exclusively 
on elections.  We are seeing a positive phenomenon whereby electoral campaigns 
are being conducted much more cleanly, but this masks the fact that we are 
seeing a brief democratic improvement for a couple of months after several 
years of a much more restrictive environment.

There is a bigger systemic issue here about creating a more pluralistic 
environment, where different parts of society feel they have a stake in the 
political process.  The issue is not about hoping to see government replaced 
with opposition.  If they were able to take power, many opposition parties in 
these countries would, I believe, replicate the same system with themselves at 
the center.  The issue is about widening the whole political space.

In the brief time remaining, I want to highlight two systemic issues which I 
think it’s worth outsiders focusing on.  The first is that in all three 
countries there is a big gap between what happens in the capital and in the 
rest of the country.  In Azerbaijan, there is a huge difference between the 
situation in Baku, where it’s still possible to hold meetings on controversial 
issues and publish opposition newspapers, and a place like Nakhichevan, where 
almost no civic activity is tolerated at all.  In Armenia again, there is a 
fairly lively political culture in Yerevan, but a much more oppressive 
environment in the regions.  

The sharpest differences may be in Georgia.  Tbilisi is in many ways comparable 
to a free and democratic Central European capital, but there is a very 
different situation in the provinces.  Opposition activists routinely complain 
of harassment, and we’ve heard about the chamber of control.  And there is 
strong pressure to vote for the governing party at election time.  You see this 
starkly in visual terms.  If you go out to the villages of Georgia, you see 
everywhere the number 5 painted as a graffito on walls and public buildings.  
This is the number on the ballot that the governing party, the United National 
Movement, had in the last election and is entitled to have again.  So I would 
argue that as outsiders who want to promote democratic standards here, we need 
different strategies for the capital and the regions. 

The other issue I want to draw attention to is the state of the media, which I 
think is by any means a long way short of European standards.  The media and in 
particular television, which is the overwhelmingly dominant medium of news 
coverage, shape the political narrative in favor of the governing 
administration.  This is a subject dear to me, as I worked for many years for 
an NGO, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, supporting independent 
journalists in the Caucasus.  My – on my visits to the region, I see my former 
colleagues and the huge problems they face.

We’ll hear for a moment from Chris Walker, but suffice it to say that in 
Freedom House's recent Global Press Freedom table for 2012, out of 197 
countries, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia all came in the bottom half of the 
rankings.  Armenia was in 149th place, a rank above Angola and one below 
Pakistan.  Azerbaijan was in 172nd place, alongside Russia and Zimbabwe.  
Georgia improved on its position from last year, but was still in 111th place 
out of 197 countries, on equal footing with Bangladesh, Kenya, and Mauritania.

In Armenia, it’s a case of one step forward, one step back in the media. The 
OSCE gave a fairly positive verdict on political parties’ access to television 
coverage in the recent election in its report.  But pro-government TV channels 
still dominate the airwaves.  The independent channel A1+ is still off the air, 
and another independent channel, Gala in Gyumri, has faced persistent problems.

There appear to be fewer cases of physical violence against journalists, but 
there has been a big increase in lawsuits by politicians against opposition 
newspapers or news agencies.  There were 37 libel cases in 2011; 30 of them are 
ongoing.  The investigative news website Hetq, H-A-E – H-E-T-Q, is the subject 
of several of these cases.  Given the state of the Armenian judiciary, there is 
reason to be concerned that this has become an instrument of government 
pressure on critical reporting.

In Azerbaijan, the media situation is particularly bad.  Again, pro-government 
television dominates the airwaves.  Foreign radio stations, such as Radio 
Liberty, lost their FM frequencies in 2008.  It is a very difficult environment 
to be an independent journalist, and there have been a number of disturbing 
cases already this year.  Two journalists from the regional television station 
Xayal TV, Vugar Gonagov and Zaur Guliev, were detained in March in the town of 
Quba and have not yet been released.  Also in March, the investigative 
journalist Khadija Ismail, who’s been researching government corruption, was 
targeted with a blackmail attempt in connection with her private life.  In 
April, my former colleague Idrak Abbasov was savagely beaten by security guards 
when investigating a story about property rights and deportations.  Obviously 
we hope all these cases will get probably – properly investigated.

Finally, in Georgia, the situation is definitely better, but there are still 
many problems.  Again television dominates the news market.  There are 
television channels with an opposition slant, such as Maestro which broadcasts 
in Tbilisi, and the new Channel 9 funded by opposition leader Bidzina 
Ivanishvili.  But two pro-government channels, Rustavi-2 and Imedi, are by far 
the richest, most watched, and most influential media outlets.  They get around 
90 percent of the advertising market, and every night they provide the 
government with extremely favorable news coverage.  A law was passed last year 
by the Georgian parliament which has thrown light on the ownership of these two 
channels.  That is useful, but it has not thus far resulted in any changes in 
the ownership structure of the channels.

But do we really know that the television news coverage is coordinated from 
above of these channels?  Well, in March this year, Transparency International 
Georgia published an interesting little piece of research on a news story about 
the death in police custody in the town of Khashuri of a man named Solomon 
Kimeridze.  Opposition activists alleged foul play, but the authorities denied 
it.  On the evening news on March 2nd, the three main channels in Georgia – 
Rustavi-2, Imedi and the First Channel – all broadcast news reports saying that 
the family of the dead man Mr. Kimeridze were irritated with the behavior of 
opposition activists of Mr. Ivanishvili's coalition.  Transparency 
International showed that all three channels used almost identical language and 
the same pictures in their news reports.  And you can actually see a YouTube 
video illustrating it.  The conclusion from this is fairly clear.  

In conclusion, I don't want to be a complete doomsayer about Armenia, 
Azerbaijan, and Georgia.  There are positive developments.  But I do believe 
that if we want to see more than just incremental change and a bigger change in 
their political culture, we need to look at more than just the election 
campaigns and focus on some of the more fundamental issues in the political 
culture.  Thank you, and I’ll be happy to answer questions.  

MR. OCHS:  Thank you, Tom.  

We turn now to Chris Walker, Freedom House.  

CHRIS WALKER:  Thank you very much, Michael.  Thank you, Michael, and thank you 
to the commission also for inviting Freedom House to speak.  We welcome this 
opportunity.  I won’t repeat the observations of the previous speakers.  I 
think they covered very eloquently and with great insight the questions 
relating specifically to the election process.  What I might do is build very 
briefly on some of the observations that Tom de Waal made on the wider context 
for elections in these countries.  And I think Freedom House has grown to take 
a very multidimensional look at these issues.  

Freedom House is working both on the analytical and assessment side, as many of 
you know, looking at issues of democratic accountability, media freedom, 
political rights and civil liberties.  We’re also working with civil society 
and democratic reformers both within the region and beyond it and have been 
doing this for many decades.  I think what’s most striking about the countries 
in question is that if you look at the country with the worst indicators on the 
issues we’re looking at, which in this case is Azerbaijan, is that the election 
process was already rather weak, going back several years ago, and has been 
getting noticeably worse over the last several years.  

When you look at both the mechanics of the election, the specific issues that 
are really the bedrock of whether an election is run with meaningful 
competition, openness and a plausible opportunity for a rotation of power with 
a diverse range of political forces, that space has essentially evaporated, in 
our view.  So if you look at the mechanics, that’s already gone.  But I think 
more importantly and Tom de Waal, I think, got at this quite well, if you look 
at the other supporting institutions that are really indispensable to 
meaningful competition in the electoral context – independent media, judicial 
independence – those have also shrunk demonstrably, in our view, in recent 
years.  And this is quite worrisome, and I’ll come back to this at the end of 
my remarks, because if we look at broader regional and global trends, the 
natural endpoint of systems that provide no meaningful space, no shock 
absorbers, no cushions typically aren’t that positive.  And that’s putting it 
diplomatically.  

If we look at Armenia, I won’t go into much detail.  Cory Welt is going to 
speak in more detail on that country.  But I think I would emphasize this issue 
that while there’s a bit more space, in our view, for example, in the sphere of 
civil society and in the media, looking at other countries in the region, 
including Azerbaijan, I think what you find is this deep and seemingly 
intractable relationship between money and politics and business interests and 
the political class.  And finding a way to systematically reform that 
arrangement is very difficult to envision given the current set of 
institutional circumstances there. 

Finally, briefly on Georgia, you can look at the glass either half empty or 
half full in Georgia’s case.  I think if you look at the past five years where 
you include both military conflict, domestic unrest and other factors that 
contributed to tumult, which, by definition, impacted the performance of the 
country on our indicators, it’s been far more stable in the last two years and 
in some areas we’ve seen some modest progress.  But I think what I would 
emphasize in Georgia’s case is that by our – (inaudible) – and all of the 
reviews we do, it’s a middle performer, which means it provides some but not 
all of the safeguards and guarantees that we would look for in a democratically 
accountable system.  

So on the one hand, one could well envision several years hence with the wrong 
sort of decisions made by political elites and the wrong sort of inducements 
provided by external actors, that Georgia could be performing worse on our 
indicators.  By the same token, with the right sort of decisions, a more 
inclusive approach, a more ennobling sense of how politics should work in the 
country by the dominant leadership there, it’s also rather plausible to imagine 
better performance on our indicators.  

And seeing the country move from what’s now the partly free category where you 
find Georgia, which distinguishes it from virtually all of the non-Baltic 
former Soviet Union save Moldova and Ukraine, which is a separate questions – 
it’s in that category, but heading in the wrong direction at the moment – you 
could well imagine Georgia moving in a positive direction with much more 
positive outcomes if political elites in society at large make the right sort 
of choices and agree on a more tolerant and inclusive way of approaching 
things. 

In the larger picture, to come back to the point of the tendencies and the 
tantalizing – seemingly tantalizing prospects for political leadership in the 
region to shrink space for civil society, for the judiciary, for political 
opposition, I would emphasize the point that this is a fraught choice.  There 
may be reasons historically, culturally and otherwise for leadership to make 
this choice.  But I think if the events of the last 18 months tell us anything, 
it’s when political leadership outweighs its welcome and when society signals a 
desire for reform and liberalization, we can all anticipate even greater 
instability.  

And I think this is something we should bear in mind when we make the 
calculation on where to put some of the important – clearly and undeniably 
important issues of economic and military security up against the longer-term 
strategic, difficult work of ensuring and encouraging democratically 
accountable institutions in all of the countries we’re discussing, both in the 
Caucasus and the wider region.  And I’ll leave it at that.  Thank you. 

MR. OCHS:  Thank you, Chris.  We’ll end this section of this – of this part of 
the briefing with Cory Welt.  

CORY WELT:  Thank you, Michael, and to the Helsinki Commission for convening 
this briefing.  I appreciate the opportunity to join this distinguished group 
of panelists.  As the last member of this distinguished group of panelists, I 
hope you forgive me if I reinforce certain points, but also inject some new 
elements into the discussion.  I first will make some observations relevant to 
all three states and then address some issues specific to Armenia's 
parliamentary elections earlier this month and Georgia's upcoming parliamentary 
elections in October and conclude with a brief comment on Azerbaijan.

My first point is a point that Tom de Waal has made, that leaving out the 
earliest years of transition from Soviet power, elections in the Caucasus have 
yet to serve their basic democratic function of transferring power from one 
political party to another.  Where an incumbent team has lost power, which 
really arguably only happened in the case of Georgia's rose revolution, it did 
so outside a normal electoral process. 

Second, in all three states, elections have still not produced a viable 
multiparty democratic system, in which opposition political parties have enough 
of a presence in parliament to serve as a check on authorities or to 
realistically position themselves as governments-in-waiting.  All three states 
still operate very much within the paradigm of a party of power rather than a 
modern democratic paradigm of parties that alternate power.

Third, problems with the electoral process, at this point, are less related to 
the mechanics of voting day – another point that several of our panelists have 
made – than to the overwhelming power advantages with which authorities are 
able to control or at least greatly influence the country's overall political 
climate – in other words, the gamut of so-called administrative resources, the 
broad and frequently illegal use of government finances and officials for 
political purposes.

Fourth, governments in all three states have utilized particular electoral 
systems to shore up their rule.  A long-running debate focuses on the benefits 
and drawbacks of proportional versus majoritarian electoral systems for the 
construction of multiparty democracy. But in the Caucasus, the conclusion has 
been clear:  The more majoritarian seats there have been in parliament, the 
better it has been consistently for the party in power.  Particularly in 
Armenia and Georgia, mixed systems with majoritarian components have repeatedly 
led to substantially greater ruling-party representation than there would have 
been in strictly party-list systems.

As a result of these considerations and others, elections in the three states 
have tended to reinforce or at least not weaken the power of those in power in 
ways that fall short of normal democratic practice.  This may be inherently 
problematic.  But furthermore, the hesitation to fully embrace democracy in all 
three states really constitutes, I would argue, the main domestic barrier to 
these states’ closer identification with the Euro-Atlantic community to which 
they all, to varying degrees, aspire.  Bureaucratic modernization and security 
cooperation may be necessary conditions for continued integration with the 
West, but so too is multiparty democracy, in which political transition is a 
normal and expected feature of politics.

I will now make a few specific remarks on Armenia and Georgia.  Of the three 
states in the Caucasus, Armenia has had the most complex electoral evolution in 
its independent history.  One distinctive characteristic has been the 
relatively low popularity voting-wise of the ruling Republican Party, which has 
maintained power through shifting coalitions with a handful of other parties.  
The main difference in this last round of elections is that two out of three of 
the government’s past coalition partners could no longer be relied upon to join 
the government.

A second difference is that one of these two, Prosperous Armenia, led by 
oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan, emerged as a full-blooded contender to the ruling 
Republican Party, ultimately winning 30 percent of the vote to the ruling 
party’s 44 percent.  This is the largest second-place electoral finish in 
Armenian history.  Whether this outcome constitutes grounds for optimism about 
Armenian democracy, however, is open for question.

Some see the rise of a division in the ruling elite into politically and 
economically autonomous factions as a positive precondition for democracy.  But 
are there still a number of reasons for caution.  First, let’s keep in mind 
that the official election results handed the ruling Republican Party its most 
successful election ever.  Its share of the party-list vote went from 24 
percent in 2003 to 34 percent in ’07 to the 44 percent of today.  The ruling 
party also increased its total seat count, including via a greater number of 
victories in majoritarian races.

Second, as of a few hours ago at least, it’s highly likely that Prosperous 
Armenia will again join the ruling coalition and again support the incumbent 
president when he campaigns for re-election next year.

Third, even if Prosperous Armenia enters opposition, the ruling party has more 
than sufficient numbers to govern without it.

Fourth, if Tsarukyan himself were to run for president next year and win, it is 
not clear whether or how he would govern any differently or preside over the 
transformation of Armenia's political system.

Fifth, parties considered to be more committed to democracy building, the 
Armenian National Congress and Heritage, came in third and fourth place, but 
with only a combined count of 13 percent and without any majoritarian deputies.

In the end, we are left in Armenia with the unsatisfying need to rely on either 
an intra-elite power struggle or the ruling party’s foresight as the basis for 
a future consolidation of democracy.

Of the three states, Georgia has gone the furthest to enable a pluralistic 
electoral environment.  In particular, I’d like to highlight the high level of 
public discussion and debate that has been mentioned before, which has led to 
improved laws on elections and campaign finance, as well as to profound 
constitutional changes that tilt Georgia toward a more parliamentary system of 
governance.  Opposition parties and civil society organizations have been fully 
empowered to participate in the crafting of these institutional reforms, and 
many of them have done so.  I would also note the dramatic decline overall in 
reported levels of corruption in the country and the steady rise of independent 
broadcast media.

All this said, Georgia still faces a number of serious challenges in 
democratizing its electoral environment.  These challenges less concern 
election day itself than the overall political context.  They include the 
following:  First, ownership of the two leading national private television 
channels, which are the main source of news for most of Georgia's population, 
was long ago transferred to government loyalists.  Until the end of last year, 
this fact was formally hidden by nontransparent ownership schemes, which have 
since been made illegal.

Second, despite new legislation banning the use of administrative resources, 
reports of bribery, intimidation and reprisal allegedly designed to affect 
citizens’ political behavior remain frequent, as mentioned, especially outside 
the capital city of Tbilisi.

Third, laws continue to be selectively applied and even selectively created for 
seemingly political purposes rather than for providing an objective context for 
the political process.  Georgia's parliament did not see the need for more 
stringent campaign finance laws until there arose a political opposition that 
had the potential to outspend the ruling party.  Another example is the 
application of Georgia’s citizenship law to Bidzina Ivanishvili, head of the 
Georgian Dream.  His loss of citizenship, granted several years ago by 
presidential fiat, may have been legal, but nonetheless highly selective and 
curiously inflexible in its implementation.

Fourth, government officials regularly cast Georgian domestic politics as an 
integral element of the heavily charged Russian-Georgian conflict.  They appear 
to do this as an act of delegitimization, in particular accusing opposition 
figures without foundation of directly working for Russian interests to the 
detriment of Georgia's own.

And fifth and finally, I would like to highlight one major overlooked 
deficiency of Georgia’s current transition to a more parliamentary system of 
governance.  This is the incongruity of electing, under one constitutional 
system, a parliament that next year will form a government under a different 
constitutional system.  The problem is that political parties appear to be 
under no obligation this year to tell voters who they intend to nominate as 
prime minister next year.  This prime minister will be Georgia's lead executive 
and a powerful one at that.  

Georgia’s – Georgian citizens are thus being called to vote without knowing, 
for example, who the ruling National Movement intends to nominate as its prime 
minister, whether it be outgoing president Mikhail Saakashvili or anyone else.  
If political parties are under no obligation to announce their prime 
ministerial candidate, Georgian voters will have little say effectively in the 
formation of the country’s new government next year.

As with Armenia, we are thus most likely left in Georgia with the need to rely 
on managed democratization by the ruling party or an eventual intra-elite power 
struggle as the basis for a consolidation of democracy.

And finally, let me briefly mention Azerbaijan.  Despite commonalities among 
the three states’ political systems, it is clear that Azerbaijan occupies a 
different position on the political spectrum.  The government and ruling party 
dominate political life to a far greater degree than they do in Armenia and 
Georgia.

The Azerbaijani government is still reluctant to abide by basic principles of 
freedom of expression necessary for normal democratic life, whether via strict 
laws on public demonstrations, absence of independent broadcast media or the 
imprisonment of young people who speak out in opposition to the government.  It 
has also pre-empted potential splits among the political elite though a variety 
of measures, including the long-term imprisonment of former government 
officials.  Azerbaijan's political context is different enough from Armenia or 
Georgia to warrant separate consideration.

Thank you very much.  I look forward to our discussion.

MR. OCHS:  Thank you, Cory.  And thank you to all of our panelists.  We now 
begin a session of questions and answers.  And I’d like to let people in the 
audience know that one of the distinguishing features of a briefing, as opposed 
to a hearing, is that people in the audience have the opportunity to ask 
questions of our panelists.  So if you want to, there’s a microphone.  Please 
step up and identify yourself.  And –

MR.:  (Off mic.)

MR. OCHS:  Yes.  But we’re going to start up here with a couple of questions.  
And Mark Milosch has at least one or two to start.

MR. MILOSCH:  Thank you, Michael.  See if I have the microphone on.  You know, 
I heard several times in the discussion a comparison of Armenia, Azerbaijan and 
Georgia.  In my opening statement, I expressed a little resistance to that 
idea, and so here I am coming back to it.

You know, I also heard in the discussion the idea that while – that there’s a – 
I heard, I think, from three panelists a(n) implicit numerical ranking of one, 
two, three.  I’m wondering what does that mean, because I also heard from three 
or four of the panelists that in fact all of the countries have grossly failed 
to meet their OSCE commitments.  None of them have had – have had free and fair 
elections, and in none of them have elections led to transitions in power.  So 
that leads me to the question that maybe this one, two, three ranking ends up 
being more of a ranking in skill – in skill and artfulness in managing 
elections and democracy than progress toward real democracy.

Second, I wanted to throw out another index here.  What if we were to talk 
about – rather than a ranking of countries, if we were to look again at these 
three countries from the point of view of the direction they’re heading now?  
You know, is Armenia improving vis-à-vis human rights and democracy, stable, 
heading backward?  Likewise for Georgia and Azerbaijan.

I’d like to hear any thoughts on that and any thoughts on where each of these 
countries is now vis-à-vis where they were in 1990.  You know, there may be 
countries that were much further along toward democracy in 1990 or had much 
more of a basis for democracy in 1990.  And they may have made a few inches of 
progress and – but still be ahead of the pack, whereas others who were in a 
much more difficult situation in 1990 may have made a lot of progress, but may 
still seem to be coming up on the tail end here.  In other words, there are a 
couple of other factors I’d like to introduce into the discussion.

And any panelists want to come in on this?  I guess we’ll start it off with 
Chris.

MR. WALKER:  Well, very succinctly, I think that the question on the 
measurement and ranking is an important one.  And I would emphasize that there 
are a number of organizations that focus on these issues in their own way.  
Freedom House, for its part, has roughly four separate multicountry reports 
that happen to include the countries we’re discussing today.  

So when thinking about these things, it’s – we’re discussing the Caucasus now, 
but in essence the treatment that we’re giving the three countries under 
discussion today is the same as any country we’re reviewing globally; or in the 
case of our Nations in Transit project, whose most recent findings we’ll be 
releasing the week after next, looking at the countries of Central and Eastern 
Europe, southeastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

What I would emphasize in this case is that the experts we enlist to do this 
are looking at a wide range of indicators.  So it would be a real challenge for 
any government, whether it’s the ones in the Caucasus or otherwise, to find 
some sort of formula for sidestepping the number of analysts that we’re using, 
looking at indicators ranging from civil society to election process to 
judicial independence to freedom of expression in media and so forth.  I think 
at a certain point the picture starts to clarify itself on the degree of 
institutional space that’s enabled or not.  It’s not perfect, but I think over 
time we found that we’re able to sharpen this in a way that gives a reasonably 
clear picture.

In terms of trajectory right now, it’s become clear in the last several years, 
I think – since the last presidential election and certainly since the 
referendum in Azerbaijan – that an already closed environment has become more 
so on a host of indicators.  And we’ve heard a discussion of some of the 
examples of this.  I think whether it’s political rights and civil liberties, 
the wider range of democratic institutions and certainly media freedom, the 
space has been shrinking on a number of levels.

In Armenia’s case, I think the watchword has been stagnation.  And something 
that comes to mind when I think of Armenia is even when the fairly public and 
pronounced inducement of the Millennium Challenge account compact was in play, 
it was still fairly stagnant there.  In many people’s view and in our 
analytical view that was the case.

And in Georgia’s case, as I hinted in my remarks, there’s been a good deal of 
tumult in recent years, which has necessarily impacted the sort of things that 
we look at.  So for media freedom, Georgia took some hits in recent years.  
We’ve seen some indications that there’s been a bit of a – of a rebound in 
stabilization that has contributed to some slight improvements over the last 
year or so in their case.

Looking back 20 years, it’s a – it’s a – it’s an interesting question.  I think 
in some respects the challenges are a bit different.  But I think if I had to 
generalize to the consolidated authoritarian systems in the region we’re 
talking about, I would say that the dominant political powers have been very 
adept at reconstituting the key instruments that allow them to retain power.  
And some of this now has a much more robust economic component, whereby 
political leadership can’t leave power because they would forgo the very 
handsome economic arrangements they’ve created over these years.  But there are 
other things at work.

But I think we’ve been perhaps surprised but also disappointed that so many of 
our indicators have bent back in a negative direction in the – some of the 
countries we’re discussing today, but also beyond the region in this political 
space.

MR. MILOSCH:  Thank you.  Anyone else?  

MR. BOWYER:  I’d just like to add – (inaudible) – that I believe there are – I 
don’t want to suggest there are different criteria for assessing whether or not 
these countries are making democratic progress, but you certainly have to 
respect the ODIHR standards that these – the OSCE standards these countries 
have subscribed to – absolutely the case.  And there hasn’t been an election 
held yet, but – in which they have met these standards.  At the same time, I 
think we do need to be reminded to consider each of the countries within their 
own developmental parameters and peculiarities.  

You talk about 20 years ago.  Well, there was conflict in the region in every – 
each of the countries 20 years ago at that time.  Not to suggest that stability 
at any price is worth it, but the situation is such that although we have 
regimes who are in control, and very strong control at that, we do have a more 
stable environment – not to suggest that, again, this is the desired outcome.

There certainly were the opportunities, the building blocks to do things 
differently initially, but we have to consider the time it does take.  And I’ve 
heard this argument a lot, probably too many times, from colleagues in the 
region and governments who have made this case, that 20 years is not a terribly 
long time with which to form a stable multiparty inclusive democracy.  It does 
take time to develop this.

But it takes political will, and we haven’t entirely reached that point, I 
would argue, in any of the countries yet.  It – you saw the – what it did take 
in Kyrgyzstan to create the hope for such a situation.  But it remains very 
much a work in progress.  And I would say that we do have to have – as much as 
we’d like things to change overnight, we do need to keep a broader vision and, 
unfortunately, a broader timetable on some of these issues.

MR. DE WAAL:  Yeah.  I’d just also like to address the 1990 question.  I think 
that was a sort of – and to generalize very broadly, there was a kind of 
trade-off between state building and democracy that happened in the 1990s, 
which many – much of the population was glad to accept, and – state-building in 
return for democracy.  And I think Russia was the trend setter in this – you 
know, the acceptance of Putin in 2000 after the Yeltsin years.

But I think Russia is also the trend setter nowadays when we see what’s been 
happening in Russia over the last six months.  The public is demanding a next 
phase.  And you know, independence is now irreversible.  That can’t be used as 
an excuse by governments, that our very statehood is under threat.  So there 
are fewer excuses.  And I think the public is beginning to say now what, that 
they want a next phase, they want – they’ve got the state-building, and they 
want democracy as well.

MR. NIX:  Yes, this goes to the comment about elections and meeting OSCE 
standards.  I’ll start by saying IRI works with all major political parties in 
Georgia.  It’s one of the hallmarks of our program.  We work with UNM.  We work 
with all of the major opposition parties.  I think both sides respect that 
position.  And again, I think it’s one of the strengths of the – of the program.

Yet having said that, looking at elections – and we look at these things from 
all sides – and my view would be that the comments about meeting OSCE 
membership standards in terms of elections probably go more to Armenia and 
Azerbaijan than they do to Georgia.  In the last national election conducted in 
Georgia, both the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission, as well as that of 
IRI, described the elections as basically meeting democratic standards, but 
citing specific improvements.

And I’ll go through those.  I mean, again, it was – it was the voter list, 
which has been problematic for many years in Georgia.  It was the pre-campaign 
period.  It was the election code.  It was the functions (empowered to the CC 
?), independent judiciary, membership of election commissions.  

And as I stated in my testimony, some of these remain challenges.  On the other 
hand, I think we have to give the government some credit for trying to address 
the problems that the OSCE/ODIHR mission alluded to.  I think there is a good 
faith effort.  But again, I just wanted to go on the record and qualify that 
statement a little bit about I think there are some distinctions in the 
election performance between the – between the three countries.

MR. MILOSCH:  Thank you.

I’d like to ask one more question on Georgia here, because I know many people 
in the room are interested in Georgia.  Many people on Capitol Hill are 
interested in Georgia, partly because we had such great expectations for 
Georgia in 2004.  I was struck by what one of the panelists said about Tbilisi 
feels like a Central European capital.  I was there in August of 2008, and I 
did think it felt like a Central European capital, which was one of the reasons 
I’ve been shocked by the things I’ve been – I’ve been reading coming out of the 
country for the past year.

I’d like to ask you about President Saakashvili’s record on democracy and human 
rights.  We all know 10 years ago he was the leader of the democratic 
opposition.  As a consequence of the rose revolution, he became president in 
2004.  He’s still president.  But you know, in what sense should we be 
considering him today a democrat, given what we’ve seen now for – since 2004 
for eight years?

We hear stories about the Georgian police beating peaceful demonstrators.  And 
there is no doubt about this, that – the videos are on YouTube, and it’s rather 
shocking.  There are confirmed reports of opposition supporters being fired 
from their jobs as teachers, police interrogation and audits used to intimidate 
political opponents, state manipulations that deny the opposition the right to 
advertise.

And I understand that we can say that they have a better record than 
Azerbaijan, but I want to say that that’s not – that’s not the index, that’s 
not the measure.  I’m glad it’s better than in Azerbaijan, but I don’t want 
there to be any plaudits here for being able to control your elections more 
artfully and skillfully than the Aliyev family.

The most recent State Department country report for Georgia – I’d like to read 
the main – the main paragraph there.  I think it’s very relevant.  “The main” – 
quote, “the main human rights abuses reported during the year included 
arbitrary arrest and detention.  There were reports of selective application of 
the law.  Crimes allegedly involving government officials or supporters were 
slowly investigated and often remained pending, while crimes allegedly 
involving persons or organizations linked to the opposition were investigated 
quickly and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  This imbalance led to 
allegations of impunity for government officials.  There continue to be 
allegations of lack of due process, government pressure on the judiciary, and 
that individuals remained imprisoned for politically motivated reasons.  There 
were reports of pressure on businesses to suppress potential support for the 
opposition and independent media.  There were reports of curbs on media 
freedom.”

So that’s part one of my question.  In what sense is Saakashvili a democrat, 
and in what sense is he evolving toward some kind of position that – there may 
not – he is – obviously not that of dictator, but it’s a – it’s a kind of 
democrat that we’re not familiar with, something akin to maybe what Yanukovych 
or – is aiming at in Ukraine.  We could talk about that.

The second part of my question goes to U.S. policy toward Georgia.  Are we too 
close to this government that can be described as, in some sense, 
authoritarian?  Are we giving it a pass on democracy and human rights because 
he’s been – Saakashvili has been very pro-U.S.?  He used to be the (toasted 
official ?) of Washington.  To a considerable extent he remains that, though 
there has been some distancing from his government.  But President Obama 
received him at the White House just a few months ago.  Georgia receives far 
more foreign aid than Armenia and Azerbaijan, so presumably it has some 
leverage there.

So the question here would be what should be our policy toward the Saakashvili 
government as it heads into parliamentary elections?  Is our government doing 
enough to ensure that these governments are free and fair?  What leverage do we 
have?  How are using them with what kind of vigor and energy?  What kind of 
priority are we putting on this?  This is of course a question for anybody who 
cares to jump in.  Thanks.

MR. WELT:  I mean, I will at least take a first stab at your first question.  
My – I’ve long said, and I think others agree, that Saakashvili has always 
considered himself a state-builder first and a democrat second or third – 
somewhere down the line.  And what he has wished to be known for in history is 
building state institutions and allowing Georgia to stand up from the status of 
the failed state that he found it in when he came to power.

But he also, to give him the benefit of the doubt, I think considers that he 
and his party and his team are the only viable actors that can effectively 
transform Georgia for the long term, stably, into a functioning state and a 
democratic state.  And though we all have snickered at the Russian use in the 
past of the phrase “managed democracy,” I actually think that many people in 
the Georgian ruling elite believe in the phrase “managed democracy.”  And it 
was revealing that President Saakashvili, some weeks ago I believe, had 
indicated, just give me another term.  Just give my team another term.

And the question is whether we want to accept that this is a team that’s 
indispensable for reforms in Georgia.  And it is a long-term transition, which 
at the end will result in a handoff to power.  I don’t believe that Saakashvili 
is some kind of Yanukovych.  I don’t believe that Saakashvili intends to stay 
in power forever.  But I do believe that he’d like to stay in power for some 
time, and his – and his party even longer.

I think one of the things that we need to do is continue to take the democracy 
on its own terms, and as I said, not fall prey to the notion that it’s 
something that can wait for another day or it’s necessary to wait for another 
day.  I think we often fall into the trap of assuming that those in power who 
are actually making certain progress on certain elements of reform are 
indispensable; and that’s not the case.

MR. MILOSCH:  Anyone else?

MR. NIX:  Yeah, I’d just comment on – yeah, I’d like to focus on the country in 
terms of democracy as opposed to personalities.  And I would just say this in 
terms of sticking with the topic of elections in the context of political party 
development, for just one sector.  If you looked at Georgia in late 2008 in 
terms of political party development, you had UNM over here.  You had what was 
then termed the radical opposition on the other side of the spectrum that was 
talking about two issues:  That was impeachment and resignation.  There was no 
debate about any of the substantive issues in Georgia.  There was that.

And so we and others really worked hard to try to build up a more centrist 
opposition, an opposition that would (engage ?) on the issues.  And I think 
you’re seeing signs of that.  You know, the Christian Democrats and others 
found – even in the radical opposition found that it was more in their interest 
to compete on the ballot than to compete in the street.  So I think you’ve seen 
tremendous progress in terms of parties moving more to the center and trying to 
engage the government on these various issues.  And I – as I said in my 
testimony, I think we will see a highly competitive parliamentary election.  
And I think that goes to progress on the democratic front in terms of political 
party building.

So I think that there has been progress.  Again, we have to wait and see.  I 
think the government has certain obligations with regard to these elections.  
The opposition parties have certain obligations.  The international community 
has certain obligations.  We hope for the best.  We hope that these elections 
will be free and fair, well-administered and observed by the international 
community.

MR. MILOSCH:  Thank you, Steve.  I certainly hope you’re right.

Tom?

MR. DE WAAL:  Just briefly, I would agree with Cory that President Saakashvili 
seems – sees himself as a state-builder first and foremost; that he’s compared 
himself to King David the Builder, the 12th-century Georgian king, to Ataturk, 
to Ben-Gurion more than sort of modern West European models.  He’s twice 
changed the constitution specifically to fit his own kind of – the structure of 
power that he wants to see.  And I mean, he does – definitely does have a 
state-building vision.

The worry obviously is that this has created a structure with very few checks 
and balances.  I would argue in fact that the Western countries have become the 
chief checks and balances on Georgia.  And with the best will in the world, 
obviously this kind of massive authority does have certain corrosive effects.  
You know, my fellow countryman Lord Acton saying, you know, power corrupts, and 
absolute power corrupts absolutely.  We always have to bear that in mind.

And also I think another problem being that certain sections of society I think 
feel excluded from the Saakashvili project, whether it be the sort of Tbilisi 
urban intelligentsia, who feel that their freedoms are somewhat restricted, or 
– and also another section of society is the kind of rural poor.  Agriculture I 
think has been – the agricultural sector has been very much ignored by this 
government.  So there’s a large section of the rural poor who also feel 
excluded.

MR. MILOSCH:  Chris.

MR. WALKER:  I also think it’s important to focus on the institutional 
dimensions of reform in Georgia, recognizing that President Saakashvili is an 
oversized political personality.  If you look at Freedom House assessments of 
Georgia, you’ll find that civil society still performs relatively well, in part 
because there’s space.  They’re a bit weaker than they were pre-rose 
revolution, but nevertheless there’s space in a way you wouldn’t find in many 
of the other countries of the region.

At the same time, at a certain point the absence of a meaningful rotation of 
power, no matter what system we’re talking about, can create its own 
pathologies.  And I think, as Tom notes, the inability to create gradually, 
steadily, meaningful checks and balances that are institutionalized would 
create, I think, problems over time in any system, including Georgia.

MR. MILOSCH:  Thanks.  I’m particularly glad to hear you say that, because one 
of – one of the things I’m hearing there – here is that Saakashvili is a 
state-builder, and he has this idea that he’ll build a Georgian state and that 
later on, when the time comes, we’ll make it democratic.  But – and – maybe I’m 
mischaracterizing what I’m hearing here, but that’s – something similar to that 
I think is in the air.

And we know that it’s difficult to create a state.  And when you – when you 
create a state, you give it a kind of character that is then stamped into it 
long-term, and that if democracy is not stamped into the foundings, not so easy 
to add later.  I was just thinking of the French Fifth Republic created by de 
Gaulle in the 1950s.  And that state, even though he was only the first 
president, retains that Gaullist stamp, that character of the founding.

And so I’m thinking, what is a – is a Saakashvili Georgia, with his 
state-building – separation of democracy from state-building idea stamped into 
it – what does it look like going forward?  Doesn’t that kind of – doesn’t that 
stay with the state?  You know, I don’t want to prolong this conversation 
through the whole briefing, but maybe a response or two on that would be 
interesting.

Cory?

MR. WELT:  No, I mean – I think the sequence has been more or less correct, but 
I do want to emphasize that I think that they believe that they have, you know, 
already embarked on that second path of democratization.  And there is 
something to be said about the institutions that are being put into place now.  
These are, on the whole, on balance, good institutions – the campaign finance 
reform, the electoral laws, the constitutional system.  And we can imagine, on 
the basis of those institutions, a fully democratic Georgia arising over the 
course of several years.

The problem is that there seems to still be a transitional period ahead of us, 
and we don’t know whether that transitional period in and of itself will put 
the brakes on that evolution.  But I think that evolution is there, and the 
question is whether or not the government will continue to move forward on the 
path that it’s already embarked upon.

MR. BOWYER:  May I add, in terms of the – in terms of addressing part B of your 
question, I believe the U.S. has an enormous amount of leverage over the – over 
the compliance and adherence to best practices of democracy in elections in 
Georgia.  In fact, Ambassador Bass has adroitly led that effort and has been 
very active in working with Georgian interlocutors to provide guidance and 
recommendations in that regard, in particular with the Central Election 
Commission, which has been a very open and transparent body.

That’s not to say we’re – that this is absolute.  Certainly there has been 
pushback in some respects with what our Georgian partners do versus what we 
would like to recommend in regards to best practices of democracy.  But I 
believe that Georgians are listening very intently, as I mentioned in my 
comments about the need to project the legitimacy of these elections.  I 
believe it’s very high in the Georgian mindset to be seen – particularly with 
U.S. allies – that these elections are in fact open, are fair, are inclusive 
and are that next step down the path of democracy.  And I believe that they 
appreciate being held accountable by their U.S. partners.

MR. MILOSCH:  Thank you.

MR. OCHS:  I’d like to again invite people in the audience to come up to the 
podium if they have any questions.  In the meantime, I have a question.

Steve, you said something that struck me.  You said that elections in the 
Caucasus have rarely been lost gracefully, which is a very nice way of putting 
it.  Turning the conversation away from Georgia at the moment to the entire 
region, an unfortunate feature of elections in the Caucasus, and in fact 
elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, is that opposition parties frequently 
refuse to accept the official results of elections.  And I wanted to ask all 
our panelists to comment on the implications of their denial of the legitimacy 
of the state’s institutions.  What does that – what does that lead to?

And there’s a related question, that some analysts believe that it would be 
very hard, if not actually impossible, for governments to resolve their 
conflicts – that is, territorial conflicts that we’re talking about – unless 
they first resolve their legitimacy problem.  And I’m wondering if our panel 
agrees with that assessment.

MR. NIX:  With regard to your opening question, Michael, yes, it’s a critical 
issue, acceptance of the election results.  As I stated earlier, in the last 
national elections international observers stated that the elections generally 
met international standards but had made some recommendations for improvement.  
And again, we’ve gone through a number of those recommendations and the steps 
that the government has taken to try to address those issues.

But I do think it’s a fundamental question of recognizing the elections as 
legitimate.  If they are declared to be free and fair, if – even if there are 
some problems with the elections, if those problems are not found to be 
dispositive of the outcome – that is, that they are not in the amount to have – 
to determine the outcome – that again, that those be directed towards 
improvements in the areas that are deemed to be (programmatic ?).  So it’s – I 
think it’s incredibly important for the political actors.  And I think they 
have a responsibility here to act accordingly.

There was an important precedent set that is an exception to what I said 
earlier.  And that goes to the mayoral election of Tbilisi, where Mr. (Alasania 
?), the losing candidate, was very gracious in his concession and conceded the 
victory.  And I think that’s an important step.  And I think we can look to 
that as another one of those steps that Georgia is taking – a maturing 
democracy, certainly a maturing political opposition – that he conceded so 
graciously.  And I think that’s an important signal to the Georgian public 
about what their expectations should be from various political parties.

MR. DE WAAL:  I’d just like to answer you – try and tackle your second 
question, Michael, about conflicts.  Certainly I do hear the argument, in both 
Armenia and Azerbaijan, that to resolve the Karabakh conflict we need more 
legitimate governments.  But I think that’s in danger of becoming a circular 
argument that – in which we end up with neither resolved conflicts nor, you 
know, improved, more democratic governments.  So I think certainly, you know, 
it’s a desirable outcome.  But it could be an excuse to do nothing.

And you know, the history of conflict resolution shows that you don’t 
necessarily need fully democratic leaders to resolve conflict.  So we look at 
the Dayton Agreement, in which the key, you know, figure on the – on the 
Serbian side was Slobodan Milosevic, who delivered the Dayton Agreement.  So I 
think we need to work in parallel.  Certainly two desirable outcomes, 
democratization and resolution of conflicts, but I don’t think we should 
necessarily link them.

MR. WELT:  I – on that point I think I would tend to reverse the question.  I – 
or at least I’d reverse the answer – (chuckles) – and say that I think that 
conflicts undoubtedly still have an effect on the evolution of political 
development in the countries.  It’s too easy with these conflicts in place to 
be able to blame everything on an external enemy, to associate opposition with 
that enemy and to also make a call for the need for a strong central government 
with all of the investments into the power structures that pertain.  That 
doesn’t mean to say that if the conflicts were resolved, all of these countries 
would turn into democracies overnight.  But I do think that there’s undeniably 
a connection in that regard.

Your first question – the other exception that’s developed in the last days is 
that the Armenian national congress, led by Levon Ter-Petrossian, has so far – 
and he hasn’t reversed his position on this – accepted – seems to have accepted 
the validity of the elections, even with just a 7 percent electoral success on 
his part.  And so that also suggests a sign – and indeed all political parties 
in Armenia, at least for now, seem to have accepted these results and will take 
their seats in parliament.  And that’s a pretty unusual move for Armenian 
politics.

MR OCHS:  Let me ask another regional question and – that takes off on a point 
that some of our panelists made, namely corruption.  Like everywhere in the 
former Soviet Union, the Caucasus has had serious problems with corruption.  
What – can you elaborate on the relationship between structural, systemic 
corruption and elections?  Is it possible to hold free and fair elections where 
– as I think Chris and others have said – the people who are in power derive 
enormous profit from being in power?

MR. BOWYER:  I think one of the key areas – one of the key things is realizing 
that this – the use of administrative resources, the vote-buying, the 
acceptance of 10,000 drams for your vote – is a criminal offense.  By the law, 
it’s a criminal offense in Armenia and the other countries.  However, it’s 
become an ingrained and accepted practice.  There – it’s a – it’s a case where 
there is a reluctance to report this crime, because it’s a win-win crime.  I 
get 10,000 drams, I can feed my family for three weeks or so; you get a vote.

It’s a difficult thing to root out, but it begins with – it begins with the 
commitment to root out such practices and restore the spirit of what elections 
in practice should be in these countries; that is, an opportunity for citizens 
to have their voices heard.  But it’s become ingrained over two decades.  I 
think it does take a bold commitment.  It does take perhaps people getting 
prosecuted, quite frankly, for this at both the top and at the level of voters. 
 I know that sounds harsh, but there’s no easy way to address it until people 
realize that in fact it is a crime.

Although we do understand the situation – economic situations are very 
difficult and very trying in these countries – 10,000 drams for a vote may seem 
like a good deal.  But ultimately you are adding, you are contributing to this 
corruption, and you’re propagating it.  And what example are you setting for 
future generations when you do this?

Not an easy thing to address.  I believe the issue of money and politics and 
business interests is so widespread and intergrained (ph), as you suggest, that 
they’re often indistinguishable.  It’s not an easy fix, but there needs to be, 
first, a commitment and a – and a bold commitment the – at the basic levels to 
address corruption, which so far, aside from some exceptions in Georgia, hasn’t 
necessarily taken root.

MR. WALKER:  Well, I might make a comparison between some of the countries to 
the immediate west.  And just having recently spent time there and talked with 
a number of people, the issue of money and politics is on everyone’s mind, even 
in the new EU member states.  The battle they’re fighting is a bit different, 
because they are mobilizing aspects of civil society, the media, and in some 
instances with some effectiveness, political opposition – but I wouldn’t say 
entirely successfully, in terms of getting at the root of the problem and 
dealing with the policy prescriptions that would institutionally minimize 
corruption over time.

I think if you hop back into the region we’re talking about, and you think 
about all of the supporting institutions that would be indispensable for 
tackling corruption both at a day-to-day level as part of the system, but also 
the corruption of the electoral process – the news media, the judicial sphere, 
judicial independence, being able to get real decisions that don’t simply 
implement the preferences of the executive – it’s a much deeper set of 
challenges to face.

I think in those instances where you’ve seen success, it’s happened with bold 
strokes.  It’s happened at certain levels – the Georgian case with the police – 
and at the grass-roots level.  This has been, I think, an example that’s worked 
reasonably well.  But that’s the exception to the rule in the region.  And I 
think, as the others have noted, this requires no sort of one simple approach.  
But I think if you see more space in the media landscape, more – some sort of 
initiatives that encourage judicial independence, you’ll then start to see more 
meaningful management and shrinking of the corruption issue.  The absence of 
that, it becomes very difficult to make meaningful headway against it.

MR. OCHS:  If nobody is – don’t be shy.  Please come up to the podium.  Please 
identify yourself and affiliation, if any.

MR.:  You have to push the button.

MS.:  Press the button.

Q:  (Off mic.)  Hello – hello?  Oh, OK.  (Chuckles.)  My name is Ala Malova 
(ph).  I’m with Azerbaijani Americans for Democracy.  And I have a question for 
the commission members and the panelists.  The past record demonstrates that 
the Azerbaijani government has no intention or interest in holding free and 
fair elections.  Every election cycle, we see promises from the Aliyev regime.  
But every election ends in wholesale falsification, witnessed by international 
observers.  And we see international organizations and the U.S. government 
expressing hope before the elections and then issuing critical statements 
afterwards.

The question is wouldn’t it make more sense to issue those statements from the 
U.S. Congress and government well in advance, demanding basic freedoms during 
the pre-election period and warning that the legitimacy of the election would 
not be recognized until minimum conditions are met?  Thank you.

MR. WALKER:  Well, I speak for Freedom House in that I think in our case we’ve 
been clear and vocal on issues relating to Azerbaijan.  And as for the 
assessments that are done, it’s one of 197 countries we examine.  And I think 
the findings speak for themselves.  I alluded to them in my remarks.  I think 
we’ve been rather clear and candid about the trajectory of the country and the 
routine and systematic abuses of democratic accountability and all the 
institutions that should be enabled to operate independently.  

MR. OCHS:  Well, one of the implications of your question, though, leads us 
into another area which has to do with the methodology of international 
observation of elections.  All of us have – all of us are familiar with and 
have some experience with OSCE monitoring of elections.  And for many years, 
the ODIHR, the election monitoring organization based in Warsaw, has used 
language that can sometimes be confusing.  For example, they often say that an 
election either met OSCE standards or failed to meet or did not meet all OSCE 
standards.  And then I’m wondering if it might be helpful – if panelists think 
it might be helpful to use different kinds of language when assessing whether 
an election has been fair or been rigged.  

MR. DE WAAL:  OK.  Well, I mean, I certainly agree.  I think there’s no – 20 
years on, there’s no point in mincing your words in an election verdict.  
Certainly – you could certainly give them a sort of discount in the 1990s when 
these were new emerging states.  But for 20 years on, I think you can deliver a 
much more unvarnished verdict on elections in somewhere like Azerbaijan.  And 
you know, the United States has a relationship with many countries around the 
world which are far from being democracies.  Saudi Arabia springs to mind.  And 
one can certainly have a certain sort of strategic relationship with countries 
on issues that matter while being very clear about your position on their 
democratic standards.

MR. WELT:  I mean, I think one of the problems is the different timelines that 
the U.S. government and others might be working on when focused on elections as 
opposed to focused on other violations and deficiencies in governance that 
affect elections.  The problem is that in between those elections period, as 
Tom pointed out, we have a lot of stakes and a lot of different facets of our 
relationships (with a lot of ?) different countries, including a country like 
Azerbaijan.  

So we do call out countries on problems that we identify all the time.  And in 
some cases, that calling out seems to have an effect.  It might take some 
months, but we have seen instances where it’s been successful.  The problem is 
– and I think this is just a structural problem – it’s very difficult to 
identify those deficiencies in a way that would bring them up to governments 
with elections that will come up two or three years down the road, implying 
effectively that we see rectification of these deficiencies as a first step 
towards a transition of power later down the road.  We try to convince 
countries to do things which are inherently good and of benefit to themselves 
as ruling powers and not in the context of elections.

MR. WALKER:  I think that the question points to some larger issues of how the 
United States and Europe deals with a country like Azerbaijan, with which it 
has a range of interests.  But I would encourage a more candid discussion of 
these issues for a variety of reasons.  I think today we have the Eurovision 
Song Contest starting in Baku.  In November, Azerbaijan will host the Internet 
Governance Forum.  On the one hand, there are a number of very prestigious 
opportunities that are being afforded to countries like Azerbaijan, as well as 
Belarus and Russia – the Olympics, Ice Hockey championships.  

I think we could rethink in some ways some of the instruments and tools that 
are made available to some of these regimes from which they benefit 
considerably.  And it’s just a larger – part of a larger conversation.  But I 
think if your assumption is that the track Azerbaijan is on at the moment is a 
– one – is one that will lead to positive outcomes, both for its society and 
its international partners and interlocutors, that leads you in one direction.  
If you have doubts about those assumptions, in policymaking terms, you might 
take a different approach, thinking a bit longer down the line.  

MR. NIX:  Well, with regard to election observation, yes, I could see why some 
of the language that we’ve seen from Azerbaijan and Armenia might be confusing. 
 I would just make these comments.  The next election is Georgia, of course.  
And there I think the effort has to be on both short-term and long-term 
observers for the reasons I stated in my testimony, and that is that it’s not 
just the events that take place on election day, but the entire campaign 
period.  

Unfortunately, these efforts are time-consuming, they require lots of 
logistics, lots of people.  They’re very, very expensive.  And so resources are 
sometimes scarce.  But our hope is that our – IRI will field a – an 
international election observation mission, both long-term and short-term 
observers.  And I think you’ll see from our statements, Michael, I think you 
know we call them like we see them.  And I think that’s the best way to 
approach it.  

MR. ANTHONY:  I would agree – if I could, Michael, quickly – that the ODIHR 
assessment statements have gotten a bit less categorical than they were in the 
1990s regarding the elections and their assessments of the – of the process.  
And certainly I think it reflects as well in that period of time a widening of 
the number of – and breadth of interest of OSCE member states and that the 
degree to negotiate this – the statement is very complicated.  

And you see the statements becoming more nuanced every time; to wit, last 
October in Kyrgyzstan during the presentation of the findings by the – by the 
ODIHR OSCE people, it was one hour or so into the presentation when a 
journalist asked in Russian – (in Russian) – what is your – so what’s the – 
what’s your assessment in the end?  And it wasn’t clear after that time whether 
it was good or bad.  And I think the countries certainly want to know how 
they’re stacking up and is it a good election or bad election.  But it did – 
it’s seldom that clear cut, it seems, anymore.  There are many interests to 
consider.  But it would be refreshing sometimes, it seems to me, to be a bit – 
to go back to some of that bluntness that we had in the 1990s.  

MR. MILOSCH:  Do you attribute the watering down of ODIHR statements to the 
influence of any particular government?  I’m wondering if it be the Russian 
government and the – (inaudible) – European governments to follow their lead 
and request in negotiating these statements.  Or maybe that’s a little bit too 
– farther than you want to go.

MR. ANTHONY:  I won’t – I won’t deny that that’s – that that is a – that a 
country of that sort plays a – an outsized role and others in configuring those 
statements.  That’s correct.

MR. OCHS:  Please identify yourself. 

Q:  My name is Catherine Pizolas (ph).  I’m a graduate student at George 
Washington University.  And I have been following the elections in – coming up 
in Georgia, and it seems that one of the biggest issues is, as the panelists 
have mentioned, the way that Saakashvili has been sort of changing the laws as 
it suits him.  We saw with the campaign finance reform laws that they were sort 
of targeted specifically at Ivanishvili’s Cartu Group.  And there were 
sanctions on his bank and things like that.  

And now we have the issue of Bidzina’s citizenship being revoked.  And I mean, 
he’s a native of Georgia.  He’s also the country’s most prominent 
philanthropist and has given quite a bit of money to a lot of state 
institutions as well.  It seemed, as you said, that his loss of citizenship, 
even though technically it might have been legal, was done purely for political 
reasons.  So it raises the question that without his citizenship being 
restored, is it possible for the elections in Georgia to be seen as legitimate? 
 

MR. OCHS:  Thank you.  Who’d like to take that?

MR. NIX:  Yes, those are interesting issues and a very provoking question.  My 
understanding is yesterday the Georgian parliament adopted certain amendments 
to the constitution that would allow someone who currently doesn’t have 
citizenship but has lived in the country for a certain amount of time to be 
eligible to run for national office.  I haven’t looked at the amendments yet; 
I’m only relying on reports from our people in the field.  But my understanding 
is that’s – that will enable people of a certain class to be eligible to run.  
It doesn’t go to the original issue that was brought up, which was the 
revocation of citizenship.  But that’s the latest update we have on that issue.

Q:  Well, I’ll just – to let you know, the amendment allows him to hold office, 
but it doesn’t actually allow him to campaign, be a member of a party, be head 
of a party or donate money to other political candidates.  So it doesn’t give 
him the full rights of any Georgian citizen in an election, it just allows him 
to hold office. 

MR. NIX:  I’d like to see – do you have the amendment with you?  

Q:  Yes.  

MR. NIX:  Oh. 

MS.:  I have it if you want it, Steve.  

MR. NIX:  Oh, I see.

MS.:  Oh, that’s not right.  Sorry.

MR. OCHS:  Excuse me, but if anyone has a comment that you would like to make 
on the proceedings or the issues at hand, please come up to the podium and make 
the comment.  Are you – excuse me – are you – do you have any other questions?  

Q:  No.  

MR. OCHS:  Then I’d like to invite – oh, wait.  

MR. DE WAAL:  I just want to say, I was struck by – I recommend the recent 
report to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner by 
the rapporteur, whose name I probably have got wrong when I pronounce, Maina 
Kiai.  It’s very nuanced, but he does-he does also make rather blunt statement 
that during the visit, the special rapporteur was informed that most amendments 
to the law on political unions were motivated to prevent Mr. Bidzina 
Ivanishvili, Georgia’s wealthiest individual, from largely financing 
associations or otherwise taking part in the conduct of public affairs in 
Georgia through means other than by a political party.  So I think that that is 
for whatever we think about Mr. Ivanishvili – Mr. Ivanishvili – you know, as an 
analyst, I can certain make comments, but that is a – an issue of concern.  

MR. OCHS:  Thank you.  I think the Georgian Embassy would like to comment on 
this.  (Laughter.)  

Q:  How – thank you very much.  Thanks for Helsinki Commission for hosting this 
very timely and, I think, very important hearing.  Thanks for the witnesses for 
providing their opinions and assessments about the democracy in Georgia and in 
general in the region.  

To go back to the – briefly to the comments, I think – (inaudible) – made, Mr. 
Ivanishvili will have all rights to campaign as well as to run for any tickets 
in Georgia as soon as the constitutional amendment will go into force.  
Yesterday, as Mr. Nix underlined, the parliament endorsed the amendment so it’s 
now president to sign into effect into the bill.  

It is of paramount importance for my country, for Georgia, to hold and to 
conduct the parliamentary election in October free, fair and in a very 
transparent way according to the, of course, highest international standards.  
Two key issues, transparency and inclusiveness, are absolutely essential to 
guarantee the success.  And these two elements are the key priorities for the 
government of Georgia.  

And if you look to the latest accomplishments, down to the elections, are clear 
– (inaudible) – these things are happening.  For example, the electoral code 
reform, party financing legislation, commissioning voter’s (lease ?), so-called 
door-to-door verification, new procedures for the Chamber of Control are all 
happened with the very inclusive and close cooperation with the civil society 
representatives, with the international organizations, with NGOs in Georgia as 
well as outside of Georgia.  

I just want to briefly respond to Mr. de Waal’s comment that president of 
Georgia is changing the constitution on his whim.  First of all, President 
Saakashvili has no rights to amend the constitution.  And you know well, I 
think, that the speaker of the parliament as well as his team in the 
constitutional commission, they were visiting villages after village talking to 
the local constituencies, informing them about the changes.  And we’re also 
very actively interacting with the international community like Venice 
Commission and will replicate the model of constitution and the government, 
which is, I think, widespread in Europe.  

Coming back to the transparency, as you probably are aware, the government made 
a very unprecedented efforts, inviting international observers seven months 
before the elections.  And we are hoping to receive as many observers as 
possible.  There are positive signs from the European Union that they will 
dispatch the teams to monitor the media on a larger scale.  And we hope that 
all international organizations represented here will dispatch their able teams 
to monitor the pre-election process as well as election process.  And of 
course, Mr. de Waal and Mr. Welt, you are also welcome in your personal or in 
any other capacity.  So thank you very much.

I just wanted to – and also I just (wondered ?) one element which Mr. Nix also 
elaborated, just on – couple of days ago on May 19th, Inter-Agency Task Force 
for Free and Fair Elections started functioning under the auspices of the 
National Security Council of Georgia.  The mandate of the task force derives 
from the electoral code.  And the main efforts will be directed to foster the 
coordination between interagency – between the governmental agencies, as well 
as to promote a dialogue between the government and all stakeholders of the 
elections.  And I think this is yet another positive signs which will further 
prepare the electoral environment in Georgia for the elections.

So thank you so much.  And if you have any questions, the embassy is always 
open for any information you would like to get.  Thanks.

MR. MILOSCH:  Thank you, Mischa (sp).  Before our panelists have a chance to 
respond, I’d like to say that I particularly appreciate your comments on the 
Georgian government’s invitation for election observers.  And I’m sure that the 
Helsinki Commission will be sending observers this fall, and we’re looking 
forward to that.

Tom.

MR. DE WAAL:  Sure.  I’d just like to respond.  I would also like to make the 
comment that, you know, it’s always – one thing we do appreciate about the 
Georgian government is that we can have a dialogue with them, even if it’s a 
dialogue of disagreement.

I certainly wouldn’t use the word whim.  I think the – that the 2004 new 
constitution had a vision behind it, a vision of a strong executive president.  
But that’s – you know, we have to, you know, state the facts that President 
Saakashvili, you know, changed the constitution to reinforce the powers of the 
presidency in 2004 when he became president.  And then, as we also see 2011, 
2012, as his presidency is coming to an end, the constitution changes again to 
create a new, powerful prime ministerial role.  And this is done – this isn’t 
the whim of one man; this is – this is, you know, the decision of the whole 
governing elite.

I think in many ways it’s a good new constitution.  But it’s a story without an 
ending.  So we wait to see whether it’s a constitution crafted for a more 
mature Georgia, or whether it’s a constitution crafted for the personal 
decisions of one individual.  And we don’t yet have a – have an ending to that 
story.

MR. OCHS:  Thank you.  Please identify yourself.

Q:  (Coughs.)  Sorry.  Embassy of Azerbaijan thank you for putting together 
this very important event.  We believe that having discussion on democracy in 
our region is equally important as having discussion on democracy in another 
part of the world.  And we are of course always ready and open to have 
discussion with anybody on democracy in our region and our country.  And that’s 
why I’m here – (inaudible
) – closely follow these discussions.  And especially we are really open to 
consider constructive assessments, constructive recommendations.

Actually nobody is saying that there is not problem or deficiencies in our 
region when it comes to democracy.  But nobody, I think, should question the 
fact that there is political will there to advance democracy, to advance with 
democratic reforms in Azerbaijan.  And government of Azerbaijan is committed to 
this, democracy, the – to the ideals of democracy.  And it is – maybe it’s not 
very revolutionary.  But it is, I would say, very stable – very stable and 
predictable manners it is advancing.  And there should be no doubt about that.

Actually my people refer to the fact that there is no – for instance, there is 
no – so – there are not so many mass protests in Azerbaijan, so maybe there is 
a lack of democracy.  But we shouldn’t forget that the legitimacy of government 
is also there.  So if there’s – if government enjoys very wide legitimacy, so 
there is no such much room for these mass progressive protests.

So when, for instance, somebody says that Azerbaijan is lagging behind in terms 
of democracy compared to other countries.  But I wouldn’t say that – I wouldn’t 
describe democracy as one thing.  Or I would say it’s a process including – 
covering many elements.  So one country can do better in one element; so other 
country can do better on other element.  So I would describe the process like 
the – for instance, Azerbaijan government extends enormous support to local 
NGOs.  It extends financial support to local NGOs.  It extends financial 
support to media outlets so that the institution – (inaudible) – enforce 
themselves.

Actually there has been no references to legitimacy of government.  But my 
questions is rather theoretical:  How had – would you define legitimacy, 
especially versus legality?  Thank you very much.

MR. OCHS:  Thank you.

MR. WALKER:  I’d just share observations on the trajectory of institutional 
accountability in Azerbaijan.  And I think what we’ve seen – and this squares 
with virtually all of the other assessments – is that whatever small space had 
been in existence in recent years – that’s actually shrunk considerably.  And 
this has really been the overwhelming consensus of all the analysts we’ve used, 
whether we’re talking about the space for independent civil society to operate 
without encroachments or any sort of interference or repression.

Certainly the media – which was discussed earlier, but I think it’s a – it’s a 
critically important issue on a number of levels.  When you look at broadcast 
media in Azerbaijan, from which the overwhelming majority of citizens get their 
news and information, as well as the limitations on other forms of media – the 
newspapers have fairly limited reach, and that’s been shrinking.

The media provides a number of critical benefits, which are not in evidence in 
Azerbaijan.  One is, for example, providing an artery for civil society to 
communicate its message – independent civil society.  So that’s virtually 
absent there.  It also enables a meaningful opportunity to debate policy 
issues.  And I would note in the case of Azerbaijan – and it’s not a unique 
case, but it’s an important case – there’s so much hydrocarbon wealth at the 
disposal of the society.  Having a meaningful, transparent and serious 
discussion about the way in which it’s used and where it’s going is critical, 
in part because those resources will not be there infinitely – or indefinitely, 
I should say.

So I think – I respectfully disagree with the assessment, based on everything 
I’ve seen from the multiple assessments we’ve been doing each year and every 
year for the last few years on the trajectory and the performance of Azerbaijan.

MR. OCHS:  Returning for a moment to Georgia and Mr. Ivanishvili, I believe I 
saw a statement from him this morning saying that despite the enactment of 
those constitutional amendments yesterday, that he said that he would not 
participate in the election on the basis of those amendments and that he would 
be applying for dual nationality.  So I don’t know where this – that very 
interesting story is going.  But it is an ongoing story, and I suspect for the 
next several months we’ll be hearing quite a lot about.

We are about out of time.  And so if there are no other questions, then I’m 
going to turn this back over to Mark to thank our panelists.

MR. MILOSCH:  We do have time for another question.  Mark.

Q:  Thank you for taking my question.  I’m Mark Danner with National 
Strategies, Incorporated, in Washington.  I’m fascinated with the question of 
deep states.  As a former investigator, I’ve looked into deep states in the 
Middle East and in Russia.  It’s an area that’s very difficult to measure.  You 
talked about metrics before, and we have a lot of democracy metrics that we can 
look at.  But deep states are hard to measure.

Just the other day, for example, I came across a World Bank report that’s dated 
up to 2005 that looked at, at least, the shadow economies in the world.  And I 
was quite surprised that Georgia ranked at the bottom.  It’s very difficult to 
measure those worlds where the powers that be, the authorities, the 
business-political interface don’t want to reveal that.

My question for you deals with your comment about how the West should be doing 
some more checks and balances.  How do you check – do checks and balances on 
deep states?  How do you – what is the methodology for investigating that when 
it’s tough?  It’s dangerous; I think Mr. de Waal mentioned an Armenian 
journalist who was beaten – an investigative journalist.  How do you do that 
from the West?  And can that have a positive impact on democracy?

MR. OCHS:  Well, that’s obviously such a difficult thing that none of our 
panelists seems particularly willing to address it.  (Laughter.)

MR.:  It’s a good question.

MR. MILOSCH:  Any other questions?  (Pause.)  If not, on behalf of Chairman 
Smith I’d like to thank the panelists for the discussion today.  I’d like to 
thank the very large group of people who showed up.  Thank you.

(END)