Hearing :: Georgia’s Parliamentary Election: How Free and Fair Has the Campaign Been, and How Should the U.S. Government Respond?

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

Georgia's Parliamentary Election:  How Free and Fair Has the Campaign Been, and 
How Should the U.S. Government Respond?

Committee Members Present:
Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ)
Representative Stephen Cohen (D-TN)

Witnesses:
Thomas Melia,
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor,
Department of State

Archil Gegeshidze,
Senior Fellow,
Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies

Ariel Cohen,
Senior Research Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies and International 
Energy Policy,
Heritage Foundation

Mamuka Tsereteli,
Director, Center for Black Sea-Caspian Studies,
School of International Service, American University


Location:  2255 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Time:  12:30 p.m. EDT
Date:  Thursday, September 20, 2012



Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C. 
REPRESENTATIVE CHRISTOPHER SMITH (R-NJ):  The commission will come to order.  
And good afternoon to everyone.  Thank you for being here.  
I want to welcome all of you to our hearing on Georgia's parliamentary 
elections, which is now only 11 days away.  The campaign has brought Georgia to 
a crossroads.  It is the most crucial event in Georgian democracy since the 
Rose Revolution of 2003.  
At that time, everyone will recall Georgians responded to a rigged election 
with a peaceful protest.  It was a great moment in Georgian history, the first 
of the color revolutions.  The Rose Revolution brought Mikhail Saakashvili – 
I've said it a million times – and his team of Western-oriented, modernizers 
into office.  Hopes were high in Georgia that Saakashvili strengthened the 
state and launched many reform.  
Russia's 2008 invasion and occupation of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and 
South Ossetia failed to topple the president, and our country has strongly 
supported Georgian sovereignty.  Vladimir Putin's invasion was yet another 
revelation of his cynical brutality.  
As an aside, I would note that I was in Georgia in the days following that 
invasion working to affect the return of two girls – daughters of one of my 
constituents – and, as it turned out, several other young people who were 
caught behind Russian lines.  And I was deeply impressed by the courage and the 
determination that I encountered in every Georgian that I met.  
That brings us to the present moment.  Only a year ago, President Saakashvili’s 
ruling National Movement seemed poised to easily win the October 2012 
parliamentary election over a fragmented opposition.  But in October of 2011, a 
man by the name of Ivanishvili began to unite elements of the opposition into a 
new coalition that posed a serious challenge.  
Mr. Ivanishvili is a multibillionaire and thought to be a newcomer to politics 
– and though he was such a newcomer, he had vast resources.  The government 
quickly stripped him of his citizenship, and the parliament passed campaign 
finance laws that limited the use of his assets.  
At the same time, the instruments of the state, budget, police and security 
services began to be deployed against the party and its supporters, though to 
what extent is a matter of dispute.  Consequently, the election campaign has 
raised very series questions about Mikheil Saakashvili's reputation as a 
reformer.  
I'm sure we'll hear from our witnesses to what degree his government has 
institutionalized genuine democratic governance as opposed to the appearance of 
it.  I don't mean to prejudge this question.  It is a difficult one that our 
witnesses are outstandingly qualified to grapple with.  
But the main questions we'd like to hear our witnesses answer touch on the 
conduct of the campaign, specifically the opposition's charges that the 
Georgian state has targeted Ivanishvili and his supporters through harassment, 
intimidation, beatings, selective enforcement of the law and violations of 
freedom of assembly and expression.  
If substantially true, that would be terribly sad.  It would indicate that the 
Rose Revolution had gone bad.  At the same time, Ivanishvili and his coalition 
have been targeted as working on behalf of Russian.  The Georgian government 
sometimes seems to paint the conflict not as one between two political parties 
but between the Georgia state and its foreign enemies trying to subvert it.  We 
certainly need to hear your thoughts on that as well.  
I do believe that members of this commission will have open minds on all of 
these questions and that each of your testimonies will be an important aspect 
in informing Congress and our own government on the conduct of the Georgian 
election campaign, now in its last days.  
We are fortunate to have some outstanding witnesses who will speak to this, but 
before doing so, I'd like to now yield to my friend and colleague, Mr. Cohen, 
ranking member, for comments he might have. 
REPRESENTATIVE STEPHEN COHEN (D-TN):  Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and to our panel 
and interested parties.  
I look forward to the testimony and the edification, for I will be traveling to 
Georgia with, I believe, Congressperson Kay Granger and Dreier to monitor the 
elections.  I am certainly concerned about elections all over the world – 
including in my home city of Memphis, where they're probably worse conducted 
than maybe they are in Georgia and other places.  And maybe Georgia is going to 
be a great experience, and I'll learn something to improve Memphis.  But I look 
forward to observing and participating, and hope that the people of Georgia 
will have a free and fair election and elect the person who is, indeed, the 
winner of the contest.  
And with that, I yield back the remainder and just look forward to your 
testimony. 
REP. SMITH:  Thank you, Mr. Cohen.  
Before go to our first panelist, I'd like to point out, and would not want to 
fail to mention, the terrible scandal that broke yesterday in Georgia 
concerning gross abuses in prison.  Videos have emerged that reveal the most 
horrifying of tortures, including the sadistic rape of men by prison officials. 
 The Georgian minister of corrections has resigned.  Individuals have been 
arrested, and the government has pledged to punish all those responsible and to 
uproot this problem.  
I welcome those actions and promises, but I also would note the statement made 
by the national security adviser who said, quote, "We as a government made a 
grave mistake when we did not properly evaluate the signals coming from the 
ombudsman and other civil society groups about the systemic problem in the 
penitentiary system.  That is a telling admission.  It's precisely the systemic 
nature of this abuse that evokes the greatest concern because it raises 
questions about the nature of Georgia's state's relationship with its citizens. 
 
I'd like to now introduce our very distinguished first witness, Thomas Melia, 
who is the deputy assistant secretary of state, Bureau of Democracy, Human 
Rights and Labor.  He is responsible for DRL's work in Europe, including Russia 
and Central and South Asia as well as worker rights issues worldwide.  In 
addition to heading the head of U.S. delegation to several OSCE meetings, he is 
the U.S. co-chair of the Civil Society Working Group in the U.S.-Russia 
Bilateral Presidential Commission.  
Mr. Melia came to DRL in 2010 from Freedom House, where he was deputy executive 
director for five years.  He had previously held posts at the National 
Democratic Institute and the Free Trade Union Institute at the AFL-CIO.  He 
also has a Capitol Hill experience having served as senior elective assistant 
for foreign affairs policy for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  
Secretary Melia has just recently returned from a visit to Georgia, so will 
provide, I think, some very fresh impressions as to what is going on there.  
Secretary, the floor is yours. 
THOMAS MELIA:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Cohen, for being here today and 
for this invitation.  
Before I get into the Georgia discussion, I just want to say how pleased we are 
to work on a daily basis with the commission and the staff in advancing a 
shared agenda and promoting human rights and democratic values across the OSCE 
region.  I will be going to Warsaw next week for the human dimension meeting 
and look forward to working with your staff and others there in this regard, as 
we have so often in the past.  
In this context of a shared, continued objective of strengthening democracy in 
the OSCE region and in advance of Georgia's October 1st parliamentary 
elections, President Obama, Secretary Clinton and other senior U.S. officials 
have highlighted the importance of such a truly democratic electoral process 
for Georgia in our regular dialogues with the government – in our strategic 
dialogue, which means high-level meetings here and in Georgia; most recently at 
the highest level, when Secretary Clinton visited Georgia in June.  
Last week, President Obama and Secretary Clinton sent to Georgia an unusual 
interagency delegation that I was privileged to lead that included senior 
officials from the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, 
the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense to demonstrate that 
there's a broad interest in these elections in Georgia, just as there is a very 
broad and deep relationship being built out between the United States and 
Georgia.  
Our delegation went to Georgia to highlight of the importance of a democratic 
process that produces a parliament that reflects the will of the Georgian 
people.  I was delighted that our newly arrived ambassador, Richard Norland, 
had just been confirmed and arrived, joined most of our meetings in his very 
first week in country.  
We met with a range of senior government officials, the prime minister and 
other ministers, election commission chairmen, the head of the special audit 
office as well as with political opposition, NGO election observers, 
journalists and others.  
The message that we conveyed privately in each of our meetings was identical, 
and also identical to what we've said in public:  The United States supports 
the Georgian people's aspirations for a free and democratic process.  We do not 
favor any particular party or candidates, and the United States looks forward 
to close cooperation with whichever leaders the Georgian people choose.  
Conducting these imminent elections with integrity will be critical to helping 
Georgia advance its Euro-Atlantic aspirations.  They will also be essential to 
a democratic transfer of power next year as the parliament elected in October 
will, at the start of the next presidential term, will select a new prime 
minister who will have enhanced powers under the constitutional revisions that 
will take place at the end of this president's term, when President 
Saakashvili's successor takes office.  
Domestic and international perceptions of fairness of the campaign environment, 
including adherence to the rule of law, media access and transparency and the 
impartial adjudication of election-related disputes will be important 
indicators of Georgia's democratic development.  
I would to highlight today, as I did in Tbilisi last week, the importance of 
several fundamental principles that featured in all of our conversations in 
Georgia and all of which are essential for a meaningful electoral process.  
First and foremost is the importance of a level playing field.  It is essential 
that the political environment is conducive to serious participation in the 
campaign by all the major parties on equal terms.  We welcome some steps by the 
government – through the Interagency Task Force on Elections, most 
conspicuously – to address reports of politically motivated firings.  For 
instance, they issued a statement early in the summer urging all government 
agencies to discontinue any layoffs until after the election.  This for the 
stated purpose of removing the concern that, in downsizings current under way 
in the Georgian government, that personnel associated with the political 
opposition would be disproportionately affected – that had been the concern, 
that it was people associated with the opposition that were disproportionately 
losing their jobs as teachers and government employees at all levels.  
While such reports of politically motivated firings have decreased recently 
since the IATF announcement, concerns remain regarding the levelness of the 
playing field, including some alleged harassment of certain activists for their 
participation in the opposition coalition, some reports of blurred boundaries 
between state institutions and the ruling party – for example, some public 
servants using government resources for campaign activities – and the alleged 
use of administrative resources particularly outside the capital, such as the 
use of public-service announcements that seem to be for the benefit of the 
ruling party.  
Nevertheless, although there have been some shortcomings, it is clear that, 
largely due to the substantial financial resources that have been available to 
the main opposition coalition, this is the most competitive election in 
Georgia's history.  
The second principle is about rule of law and due process.  In our meetings 
with the Georgian government and the various political parties, we stressed the 
importance of ensuring that the campaign and election laws are applied equally 
and transparently, and that all participants are held to the same high 
standards of conduct as spelled out in Georgian law.  
While almost every party, including the ruling United National Movement, has 
been penalized for campaign finance violations, the state audit office has 
devoted the most significant part of its attention to the opposition coalition, 
Georgian Dream.  Although there are some anecdotal and substantial indications 
suggesting that Georgian Dream may well have spent substantial amounts of money 
in violation of the campaign finance laws, the lack of transparency in the 
state audit office's procedures and due process deficiencies raise doubts about 
whether the law has been enforced equally vis-à-vis all parties.
That the recent director and deputy director of that state audit office last 
month became ruling party parliamentary candidates while the current director 
of the office is a former member of the ruling party member of parliament, this 
exacerbates the concerns about the partisan nature of the investigations being 
undertaken by the state audit office.  
We recognize the challenges on all sides of complying with and enforcing a new 
set of campaign finance laws and urged the state audit office – we did meet 
with their new leadership – to emphasize transparency and due process as it 
continues to improve its work.  We urged all the political parties to 
participate constructively, follow the law scrupulously and to pursue their 
political goals through the ballot box.  
The third principle is respect for fundamental freedoms, respect for peaceable 
protests and freedom of assembly as a hallmark of a democratic society, and the 
government holds a particular responsibility to protect and uphold those 
freedoms.  We heard last week that the political parties we met have generally 
been able to travel the country, hold rallies and get their messages out to the 
voters with whom they meet.  In our conversations, we also urged all parties to 
renounce violence and avoid provocations, especially on election day, election 
night, during and after the ballot counting and on the morning after.  
The fourth principle is equitable access to media.  We applaud the electoral 
reforms enacted late last year that expanded the access of all parties on equal 
terms to the mass media during the 60-day campaign period.  More recently, we 
were encouraged to see the implementation of the so-called must-carry 
legislation during the campaign period, and we strongly support its extension 
through the post-election complaints process and beyond.  
At present, however, the two nationwide broadcast television networks are 
distinctly pro-government – Rustavi 2 and Imedi – while two regional stations 
are mainly pro-opposition or at least consistently critical of the government – 
Maestro and Kavkasia.  Continuing efforts to promote wider access to a 
diversity of opinions and media outlets would reflect fundamental values that 
democracies share.  
The fifth principle that we emphasized in our meetings is constructive 
engagement.  We have every expectation now, based on both the opposition's 
commitment to us that they reject the use of violence and the government's 
commitment to us that its security forces will be scrupulously professional, 
that election day and its aftermath can unfold peacefully.  We certainly hope 
this will be the case.  After October 1, all parties will need to work together 
constructively in the newly parliament to advance Georgia's democratic and 
economic development.  They should conduct their campaign in that spirit.  
Finally, we call on all participants to promote an electoral process that the 
Georgian people may judge as free and fair.  We commend the work of the 
domestic and international observation groups, including principally the OSCE 
ODIHR mission that is currently in Georgia to help ensure the election process 
is transparent and consistent with international standards and reflects the 
will of the Georgian people.  The pre-election situation is dynamic, and we are 
monitoring developments very closely.  Your commission's attention to the 
upcoming election is helpful.  
Again, thank you for holding this hearing.  We look forward to continuing to 
work with the commission, and I'd be glad to answer questions.  
REP. SMITH:  Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for your testimony – very 
comprehensive – and for the fine work you and the department are doing not the 
least of which is trying to get both sides to absolutely commit to no violence 
day of and day after, especially day after, which is what I think we're all 
most concerned about.  
So thank you for that.  And you do believe those commitments are ironclad as 
much as they can be? 
MR. MELIA:  I believe they told them to us, and we will continue to reinforce 
the fact that we have all agreed on this.  
REP. SMITH:  Let me ask you – you know, that video that did surface about the 
harsh treatment of inmates, could you comment on that?  I mean, that seem to be 
a very dark insight that caught a lot of us by surprise, certainly me.  
MR. MELIA:  Well, let me make three quick points about these videos about 
mistreatment in the prison system.  
First is that I haven't seen the videos, but the descriptions I've heard of 
them are pretty gruesome and horrific.  And so we're appalled by them.  And our 
embassy has been engaged with the government and with others there in the hours 
– it's just been since yesterday that this arose very intensively.  
Second is that it is not surprising.  In our annual human rights report that we 
published this year about the calendar year 2011, we summarized in the 
executive summary three large problems.  The first one is continuing abuse of 
people incarcerated in Georgian prisons.  So this is an ongoing problem.  It's 
been clear to us for a while.  We have raised it with the Georgian government, 
and it has been part of our – not only our most recent report, but for the last 
several years.  
REP. SMITH:  But this went beyond even what the report would indicate.  Right?  
It seemed to me to be – 
MR. MELIA:  Videos always bring a new texture to allegations of abuse.  And so 
it seems even more horrific than we had realized.  
But let me say that the initial response from the government seems to have been 
– what's the right word – President Saakashvili has reacted quickly and I 
think, you know, in the right way to change the minister of the prison – the 
minister overseeing the prisons has been changed this morning.  The new 
minister is the human rights ombudsman who has a sterling reputation in looking 
after these issues.  He's one of one of these that has raised the problem of 
conditions in prisons in the past.  If he has – if he is given the power to 
clean up the act there, he really is empowered to take steps to improve the 
conditions of incarceration in Georgia's prisons, this could be one of those 
moments that, you know, where a horrific incident leads to improvement in a 
system.  
The other thing that's interesting is that, although there's already been some 
back-and-forth between the parties about who's responsible for leaking the 
video and whether – how real the problem is and so on, it's worth noting that 
Mr. Ivanishvili, the lead of the opposition, also came out this morning in both 
a previously scheduled meeting with our ambassador and in a public statement – 
called for calm among his supporters, calling for them not to turn this into a 
reason for, you know, more public street action in response to, you know, the 
government's responsibility to maintain the prison system.  
So I think both President Saakashvili and Mr. Ivanishvili have, today, stepped 
up and done the right things, done the responsible things, as responsible 
people sometimes do in moments of crisis.  
REP. SMITH:  Are you convinced – one of your main points, obviously, was access 
to media.  Does the opposition and the government, do they all have close to 
equal access or equal access?  
MR. MELIA:  Well, as I mentioned there are a number of broadcast networks.  
There's cable television.  There's online news services.  It's uneven in it’s – 
it has been uneven in its reach around the country.  The two main national 
stations that have the most reach across the country tend to be pro-government, 
echo the government party's views on things.  The principal broadcast stations 
that are friendly to the opposition or at least critical of the government tend 
to be regional stations and don't have the reach in the country.  There is also 
cable television and other means.  
The must-carry legislation which had been urged upon the government and that we 
had urged that they adopt last spring, they did, so that all the different news 
providers have access to the cable networks of the others so that, at the 
moment, up and through election day, there is more diversity in the carrying of 
cable news and political discussion.  
The point I made in my testimony is that now that it's been established that 
the basic cable infrastructure can be opened to the various political points of 
view, why stop it on election day?  Why not continue it at least through the 
end of the official election process.  The official election process, of 
course, doesn't end on voting day.  It ends when the results have been 
tabulated, when disputes have been resolved and when the elected officials 
assume their offices.  That's when, you know, the election monitor's guidebooks 
tell you should conclude your observation.  
And so we think that, since there may likely be protests and complaints on the 
day after the election, that that process, which is part of the election 
process, should be accessible to all the viewers in Georgia as well.  So we've 
urged that that be carried through at least through the immediate 
post-election, post-election day period and more generally.  
There is a question about whether the legislation that was enacted earlier in 
this year that facilitated that which did stipulate that this must-carry period 
would end on election day, whether that means that it must stop on election day 
or whether it could continue if the providers see fit.  So we're encouraging 
the providers to see fit to – 
REP. SMITH:  Are you satisfied that the mechanism for resolution of disputed 
ballots is up to, you know, standards that would be universally recognized?  
MR. MELIA:  Well, the system on paper – 
REP. SMITH:  There will be disputes, obviously.  
MR. MELIA:  – is the proper one.  We met with the election commission chairman 
whose prior career has been as a CPA and auditor for major international firms. 
 So he knows about lining up the numbers and tallying them accurately.  And 
he's approached his work, I think, in the spirit of a good CPA.  
And they've set up systems, and one of the innovations in this election that 
wasn't as true previously is that they will announce incremental election 
results as they come in from around the country in real time.  And they will 
post them on their website, and they will make them available on screens that 
will be in the main hall of the election commission building.  
And those of us who have seen elections in post-communist world over the years, 
that is one of the best practices so that – and one of the concerns in previous 
Georgian elections has been a bungling of election results.  Prior election 
chairs had decided to kind of wait and, every hour or two, they would post 
election results.  And that led to some suspicions that some finagling might be 
going on while the results were tabulated but not yet released.  
So what the chairman has committed to doing – and he says this is part of his 
publicly announced process – is there will just be a rolling emissions program 
where everything will be posted as soon as distribute-level election results 
come in.  And that is the best practice.  So it can work properly.  
REP. SMITH:  Let me just ask you three final questions, and then I'll yield to 
Mr. Cohen.  
Mr. Ivanishvili's citizenship, when it was revoked and reinstated through the 
constitution, what was our take on that at the time?  And are we satisfied that 
– was it pressure that caused a reversal?  Why did that happen?  
Secondly, with regards to the chamber of audit that targeted the Georgian Dream 
by imposing large fines, are those claims plausible?  
And finally, do you believe a sufficient number of election monitors are about 
to be deployed to ensure that, you know, when the judgment is made by the OSCE 
and others that it was free and fair – if that is their judgment – that there 
will have been enough coverage of the election balloting posts?  
MR. MELIA:  On the last point – let me go in reverse order.  On the election 
observers, there will be a lot of election observers there.  There's a domestic 
network there, ISFED (ph) (sic; IFES ?), that's been trained and has operated 
through previous Georgian elections.  They are up and running around the 
country.  They've produced some preliminary reports on what they are hearing 
and seeing.  
The long-term observers from ODIHR are on the ground now.  That mission is led 
by Nicolai Vulkanov, a Bulgarian, who previously was the number two in ODIHR 
for 10 years; I mean, has run election observer missions across the OSCE 
region.  He's as good as they come.  I have a lot of confidence in his ability 
to manage all the political turmoil that will be around him and come up with as 
straight an assessment as is possible.  
So there will be – and there are a number of other – NDI and IRI have been 
deploying election missions and will have some there around election day.  And 
there are a number of others sort of less famous perhaps but other NGO efforts 
that are under way to monitor the election process.  
So I think there will be a lot of information available and, you know, my view 
has always been the more observers, the better.  They may not all agree with 
each other, but it's the same principle as having – you know, more newspapers, 
the better.  You don't learn all the same things from different newspapers in 
this town, for instance.  But if you have multiple sources of information, 
you're more likely to get closer to the truth.  
So I think there will be a lot of observers.  We'll have a lot of information 
between now and election day and on the morning after.  
Typically, the U.S. government and the European Union wait until after the 
ODIHR and other major delegations offer their considered assessments, 
preliminary assessments on the afternoon after the election before we opine.  
We definitely want to wait to see what all the people on the ground say before 
we weigh in.  That's our general policy, and I think it will be respected here. 
 
There are other delegations from the OSCE parliamentary assembly, NATO 
parliamentary assembly and others that will be there.  There will be a lot of 
observers.  
On the question of the citizenship for Bidzina Ivanishvili, that's a 
complicated, torturous story.  The way it's played out is very unusual.  I 
mean, a lot of things about the Georgian election and political process are 
distinct.  And I think we've – they have arrived at a place where he's allowed 
to participate.  He's clearly become a major political force in Georgian 
politics.  I don't know that it's helpful to comment on the circuitous route 
they got to get to this point, but he's there.  He's in, and he can participate 
as he wants to.  
I'm sorry.  The second – 
REP. SMITH:  Georgian Dream.  
MR. MELIA:  Oh, well – oh, the enforcement of the laws and the finance laws.  
Well, you know, the record is clear, when Ivanishvili announced that he was 
going to get involved in politics and launched Georgia Dream – just about a 
year ago now; in October, I think, last year – he represented a significant new 
element in Georgian politics.  At about that time, soon after that, new 
campaign finance laws were enacted and new powers were is signed to this state 
audit agency, the chamber of control.  And it has been vigorously enforcing the 
campaign finance laws.  
The government officials and the audit office say that most of the money and, 
therefore, most of the potential problems in campaign finance, are associated 
with Georgian Dream.  Therefore, it is natural that most of their investigation 
should focus on potential and real problems associated with their adherence to 
the campaign finance laws.  
Others say that it's been, you know, selective implementation – 
REP. SMITH:  What do we say?  
MR. MELIA:  Well, it's clear that – well, I'll make two points.  One is that 
it's troubling that the leadership of this office – they were leading the 
office from last year from the turn of the year through the summer.  The 
director and the deputy director turned up last month as parliamentary 
candidates for the government party.  That creates a perception of lack of – 
disinterestedness in the process.  The fact that the new chairman of the office 
is a former member of parliament for the government party adds to that 
disquiet.  It might have been better to have a retired law professor or another 
CPA or somebody like that to do this kind of job.  But it is what it is.  So 
the way that the appointments were made to that agency have created a political 
cloud over its operation.  The fact that it has been very vigorously enforcing 
rulings and investigations mainly against the Georgian Dream speaks for itself, 
I think.  
REP. SMITH:  Mr. Cohen?  
REP. COHEN:  Mr. Ambassador – Secretary – 
MR. MELIA:  I haven't become an ambassador yet.  
REP. COHEN:  Yeah; I realized that quickly.  
Mr. Secretary, I'm unfamiliar with the Georgian process.  What type of 
equipment do they use to vote on?  
MR. MELIA:  That's a good question.  Paper ballots?  Check the box?  Count them 
up at the end of the day?  
REP. COHEN:  So what should an observer be looking for?  
MR. MELIA:  That might be a longer conversation we could have in your office if 
you like before you go.  But generally, you know, there's the environment 
around the voting booth.
REP. COHEN:  Right.  
MR. MELIA:  I mean, if the voting booth is the epicenter of election day and, 
in the ideal scenario, an informed voter goes into a booth and, confident that 
his vote is secret, casts the ballot in the way he prefers, how do you get to 
that point?  
You get to that point through a series of reinforcing measures.  How do you get 
the informed voter?  That goes to the media question.  Are the candidates and 
the political parties able to get their message out to all the voters they are 
trying to reach.  Is the interested vote able to access all the information he 
wants about the choices before him?  So the, you know, information environment 
leading up to election day is critical.  
Is the process fair?  Will the votes be counted accurately?  That goes to how 
the election commissions are appointed, who’s going to be – 
REP. COHEN:  All that is over and beyond what I will be able to observe in that 
day.  
MR. MELIA:  Right.  
REP. COHEN:  I mean, am I going to, you know – are they going to be taking 
votes out of their pocket and – 
MR. MELIA:  Well, among the allegations of potential ways in which the vote 
counting might be skewed are that people will be suborned or bribed or 
persuaded to take pictures on their cell phones of this ballots to prove that 
they marked them the correct way that somebody told them to, whether it's their 
boss or their neighborhood, you know, block leader or whoever.  
There's a – you know, there's rumors afoot that, you know, people – there will 
be cameras, you know, monitoring people; that people will be given inducements 
to vote one way or the other.  Some of that you might be able to see or hear 
about.  Much of it you may not be able to see as a casual observer not speaking 
the local language.  
REP. COHEN:  Yeah.  It's going to be tough not speaking, you know, Georgian.  I 
mean, I can speak with a drawl, but I don't think that'll work.  
MR. MELIA:  This is a different kind of Georgia.  Yeah.  
REP. COHEN:  Yeah.  
MR. MELIA:  You can tell a lot though.  You can tell a lot as an experienced 
political person yourself.  You can walk into a polling place, and you can tell 
whether there's an atmosphere of anxiousness, fear, concern.  
REP. COHEN:  Do they have any rules about how many feet you have to be away 
from the ballot area with distribution of literature or wearing of 
paraphernalia in the voting –  
MR. MELIA:  They may well.  I don't know what the numbers are, but I'm sure 
that there's specified.  And that'll be part of the briefing material that you 
would have if you're part of the OSCE.  
REP. COHEN:  Yeah, there will be a briefing.  And if you have any other 
information, I'd be interested.  
MR. MELIA:  There are issues about, for instance in this – in this partial 
context, it's perhaps more important than whether political party agents can be 
out in front of the polling place is where the police and other security forces 
might be.  And this is one of the – one of the emerging things that we're 
watching because we want to avoid a situation in which there's some effort to 
provoke confrontations around the polling place.  At some point in the recent 
past, some members of the opposition have said that they want to make sure 
their people are poised to defend the ballot from miscounting or otherwise.  
And that sounded like crowds might be gathering at polling places during the 
counting, and that might lead to some provocations with police or members of 
the other party.  We did talk to the minister of interior that oversees the 
police, and we've urged them to be responsible in managing any crowds, any 
demonstrations that arise.  And they're alert to that.  There have been 
political demonstrations in the past that have led to larger violence and 
larger confrontation.  
And so they're aware of that.  And some – you know, our government and some 
European governments are providing training on crowd management, riot control, 
things like that.  
REP. COHEN:  Do they have, like we have, the rights for both parties to have 
observers?  
MR. MELIA:  Mmm hmm.  
REP. COHEN:  They do have that.  
MR. MELIA:  They will be there.  
REP. COHEN:  And do both parties have the rights to be present to count the 
ballots?  
MR. MELIA:  Yep; they will be.  And just to be clear, there's at least three.  
There's another major party that will be a significant player in the race, the 
Christian Democratic Movement.  But the UNM and the Georgian Dream are the two 
larger ones consistently in the polling that's been done.  But this Christian 
Democratic Movement is not insignificant, either.  
REP. COHEN:  Has there been any polling that you have been privy to that you 
can discuss that gives you an indication of how the likely voters would vote?  
MR. MELIA:  There is – there's a lot of polling that's been going on, some of 
it by NDI and IRI, our American party institutes that are on the ground there.  
Each of the campaigns has commissioned polls and selectively publish them when 
they seem politically useful.  
There's a – in the – in this political environment, there's a major discussion 
about how to allocate undecided voters or people who decline to express their 
preference.  The various pollsters have adopted different techniques for 
allocating the undecided to, you know, make assumptions, you know, based on 
their political skills about where those voters might go on election day.  
So that has led to some competing narratives about where public opinion is in 
Georgia.  So that's all – there's a lot of that publicly available that can be 
– 
REP. COHEN:  What are the NDI and IRI – the Republican polls say?  
MR. MELIA:  They have generally showed that the government party remains the 
most popular; that the Georgia Dream rose in popularity as the year went on.  
And the most recent ones that were published in August showed a dropping away 
of the Georgian Dream so that the gap between them and the government party was 
widening in the last month.  
REP. COHEN:  What is – what are the issues that have been raised in the 
campaign?  
MR. MELIA:  Well, the polling shows that what voters mostly care about – and 
this will not be surprising to you – is jobs and the economy.  And the 
campaigns, in different ways, have spoken to that with their different plans.  
So that – you know, Georgia, like any other country these days, those are the 
major things that voters say they want the campaigns to speak to.  And they 
have done that in their way.  They've had their public – they've had public 
debates, the public forums.  As I said, the campaigns are able to get out and 
around, and they are – they are campaigning.  
REP. COHEN:  And so the must-carry law – which I had not heard that term – from 
where I am from, I would think that would involve, you know, side arms.  
Fortunately, it's not what it is.  (Laughter.)  Or photo ID, which is not such 
a wonderful – but what do they have to carry?  I mean, is there a – is each 
station given equal time, each network, each broadcast or whatever or equal 
time to buy, equal opportunity?  
MR. MELIA:  I don't think it's – well, there's campaign advertising.  There's 
purchased advertising space on billboards and radio and television.  But 
there's also – because of the generally aligned nature of the different 
networks, the question was whether they could – they would be obliged to carry 
other – the other camp's version of the news and discussion shows.  
So I don't think there's a – again, maybe I'm – I don't think there's a 
financial implication to that.  I think it's just a requirement that they carry 
the other side's – 
REP. COHEN:  And with the advertising, has one side – is it unlimited amount of 
TV and radio, or did these laws limit how much one could spend?  
MR. MELIA:  I can't speak to the details of that.  I'm sorry, Congressman.  
REP. COHEN:  And do you know what the ads are like?  Are they, you know – the 
two sides – is it just we'll get more jobs and we need more jobs?  Or is it, 
Jane, you ignorant – 
MR. MELIA:  I did not see a sampling of the campaign advertisements, I confess. 
 That's a good question.  If I were smarter, I would have done that last week.  
REP. COHEN:  Do you have any – the Georgia Dream – which I have to think about 
the American dream and that's one of our lines.  Is – do you have – give me 
some impression of what – if the Georgian Dream is successful in the election, 
what they would bring to a difference in the Georgian government and how that 
might affect our relations with Georgia.  
MR. MELIA:  Most of the analysts of the campaign platforms that I have seen, 
including our embassy reporting, say that there are not significant differences 
in the way they describe what they would do for the economy, for the jobs and 
so on.  
Whether the Georgian Dream would adopt a notably different foreign policy or 
have a different kind of relationship with the United States, that's a 
contested item.  When I met with Mr. Ivanishvili at the start of last week, he 
spoke very passionately about his commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration, to 
Georgia's aspirations for NATO membership and E.U. membership, for a continuing 
strong relationship with the United States.  
So others will say that that represents some dissembling, that he's – he would 
change Georgia's foreign policy.  But, you know, we have no way to know what 
that would mean in the end.  You know, we can't predict what the foreign policy 
would be in a Georgia Dream-led parliament or government.  
What we know fundamentally is that we want a government that the Georgian 
people have elected.  That's been our focus in this process.  It's not our job 
to parse their stated or presumed, you know, policy inclinations down the road. 
 That's for the Georgian people to decide.  
REP. COHEN:  As I understand it, he – was he from Russia?  
MR. MELIA:  He's a Georgian born, Georgian – well, citizen in the end and spent 
much of his adult life in Russia making his fortune.  
REP. COHEN:  In that area?  How did he make his fortune?  
MR. MELIA:  Banking, money management, things like that.  
REP. COHEN:  Banking.  The American dream.  (Laughter.)  
MR. MELIA:  He left Russia a few years ago.  He's been living in Paris for a 
number of years before he returned to Georgia more full time essentially a 
year, year-and-a-half ago.  So he didn't come straight from Russia is my point. 
 He moved out of Russia six or eight years ago, went to Paris, France, and was 
there and then he came back to Georgia.  
REP. COHEN:  Thank you.  
REP. SMITH:  Just two brief questions to follow up or to conclude.  
In cyber subversion by – of Georgian Dream and do we have any information as to 
who might have done that?  What's the origins of it?  
And secondly, with the Caucus (ph) 212 military exercises, is that intended in 
any way to affect the outcome of the elections?  
MR. MELIA:  We've recently heard the concerned expressed about some 
cyberattacks on Georgian Dream computer sites and computers and so on.  I don't 
know the details of that.  This has just recently come to my attention.  
And we've asked for more information – 
REP. SMITH:  Could you get that back to us too as you get that?  
MR. MELIA:  Sure, I can follow up --
REP. SMITH:  That will be very helpful.  
MR. MELIA:  – in the days to come if we learn anything conclusive or 
interesting about that.  
So we've heard the allegation, but we don't know what to make of it honestly.  
As for the Russian and CSTO military exercises, there is one under way in 
southern Russia to Georgia's north and one under way in Armenia.  My 
understanding is that the Kavkaz 2012 Exercise, the principal one that's 
happening in the Russian Federation to the north, has been long planned.  We 
certainly knew about it long ago.  In fact, it was planned before the election 
date was clarified.  
You're well familiar with the Georgia-Russia dynamic, but we have also 
encouraged the Russians and their partners in those military exercises to try 
to avoid anything that could be interpreted as provocative.  We shall see.  
REP. SMITH:  Is there, Secretary, anything you want to add before we conclude?  
MR. MELIA:  No.  Just that I'm glad that some members will be able to visit 
Georgia around the election.  That will add to our collective wisdom, and we 
can revisit where we are in the days after that.  And I would look forward to 
hearing your readout from your visit there.  
Georgians in the government and in the opposition are among the best friends 
the United States has anywhere in the world.  And I think we're reminded in the 
last week that we should cherish that.  So we go into this with a strong sense 
of partnership with Georgia as a society and as a country and mindful of the 
important accomplishments of this government and, also, alert to some of the 
things we'd like them to be doing better going forward in strengthening their 
democratic systems and, as part of that, moving along that trajectory toward 
consolidation with NATO and E.U. and the Western alliance.  
REP. SMITH:  Secretary, thank you very much for your testimony.  
MR. MELIA:  Thank you.  
REP. SMITH:  I'd like to now welcome our second panel to the witness table, 
beginning with Dr. Archil Gegeshidze who is a senior fellow at the Georgian 
Foundation for Strategic and International Studies where he lectures on 
globalization and development as well as providing training in policy analysis 
at GFSIS.  Prior to joining GFSIS, he was a Fulbright scholar at Stanford 
University.  
Dr. Gegeshidze worked for the Georgian government from 1992 to 2000.  During 
that time, he was assistant to the head of state on national security and chief 
foreign policy adviser to the president.  
We'll then hear from Dr. Ariel Cohen who is a senior research fellow for 
Russian and Eurasian studies and international energy policy in the Kathryn and 
Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage 
Foundation.  A commentator in great demand, he covers a wide range of issues 
including economic development and political reform in the former Soviet 
Republics, U.S. energy security, the global war on terrorism and the continuing 
conflict in the Middle East.  
Dr. Cohen's book, "Russian Imperialism: Development in Crisis," came out in 
1996 as well as in 1998.  He also co-authored and edited "Eurasia in Balance" 
in 2005 which focuses on the power shift in the region after the September 11th 
attacks.  He has written nearly 500 articles and 25 book chapters.  
We'll then hear thirdly from Dr. Mamuka Tsereteli who is the director of the 
Center for Black Sea Caspian Studies at the School of International Service at 
American University where he teaches classes on international economic policy 
and energy and security in Europe and Central Eurasia.  
He frequently speaks about the international relations in the Caucasus and the 
Central Asia political-economic developments, energy security and country risk 
analysis.  Dr. Tsereteli serves as the president of the America-Georgia 
Business Council and the president of the Georgian Association in the United 
States of America, USA.  He is a board member of the American Friends of 
Georgia, the Georgian Reconstruction and Development Fund, the Business 
Initiative for Reforms in Georgia and the American Academy of Georgia.  
Dr. Tsereteli previously served as the economic counselor at the embassy of 
Georgia in Washington covering relationships with international financial 
institutions, U.S. assistance programs and business initiatives.  
Dr. Cohen, if you could proceed first. 
ARIEL COHEN:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  And thank you, the staff, for doing a 
terrific job day in and day out on a number of issues that I follow, including 
on Russia.  
Mr. Chairman, I am covering Georgia since '93, so it's almost 20 years.  I've 
been in the country many times, wrote a monograph about Russia-Georgia war.  
I've also been an election observer in Russia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan 
and other countries.  So it is, indeed, an important election that we're facing 
that will define not only who and how rules Georgia but, also, it will be 
crucial for U.S.-Georgian relations.  
Georgia is a geopolitical centerpiece in that part of the world.  President 
Saakashvili developed a policy of Georgia building on the policies of his 
predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze, bringing Georgia away from the Russian sphere 
of influence and building a strong relationship with the United States.  
His challenger, the Georgia Dream Coalition head, billionaire, Bidzina 
Ivanishvili, has deep ties to Russia.  Ivanishvili built his 6.4 billion 
(dollar) fortune as was mentioned before in the opaque Russian business world 
primarily in banking.  And jokes aside, Russian banking is not the same as 
American banking.  
So this year, we found out that Mr. Ivanishvili sold the majority of his assets 
to business people who are directly and closely connected to the Kremlin.  
Transactions like that do not happen in Russia without an explicit approval and 
blessing from the Kremlin.  
The rhetoric of this campaign is far from courteous.  The Ivanishvili-led 
opposition is not mincing words.  Its leader called Saakashvili, quote, "son of 
a dog," and quote, "professional liar," unquote.  In Russia and many 
neighboring countries, such language would earn the opposition leader a jail 
term or worse.  Not in Georgia.  
In fact, recent media monitoring that was already discussed by Deputy Assistant 
Secretary Melia also found that the press coverage – printed press – is 
pro-opposition.  When they did content analysis on photography, President 
Saakashvili came out with more negative coverage in terms of pictures, whereas 
radio was neutral and TV channels are polarized.  As was mentioned, the 
national channels being more pro-government and three other channels being 
pro-opposition. 
There are serious accusations against the government ruling party and the 
government practices.  Georgia Dream accused United National Movement, led by 
Saakashvili, of abuse of office, firing supporters of Georgia Dream from their 
jobs and other transgressions.  It also claims that a small group of cronies 
surrounding Saakashvili holds Georgia in an iron grip.  If so, it is difficult 
to understand why IRI and NDI polls demonstrate about 20 percent lead for the 
UNM but 55 percent against Georgia Dream, 35 percent.  And Georgia Dream is not 
lacking for money.  
So the electorate in these elections have a real choice.  After all, the ruling 
party took Georgia through a disastrous war with Russia in 2008 and a deep 
economic crisis.  Georgian voters may have had enough of perennially active 
Saakashvili who is currently moving the parliament to Kutaisi, second largest 
town in the country and relocated Georgia Supreme Court in a coastal town of 
Batumi.  But this is not what the poll data showed.  
In addition, speaking of poll data, the pollsters who work for the ruling party 
are accusing opposition of manipulating polling results projecting much higher 
numbers than the Western-funded polling.  
So what I see comparing to other places I did election observation and having 
been in Georgia not too long ago in summer is a highly competitive election 
which is an achievement in itself.  Let's not forget the Georgian political 
system as we see it is functioning only for nine years, and the Soviet rule 
ended 20 years ago.  
Horrible information came yesterday and day before, I believe, or yesterday and 
today about abuses in the Georgian prison system.  The recent revelations of 
systemic torture horrified Georgians and foreigners alike.  Such horrors should 
not be tolerated especially in a country which aspires to integrate into 
Euro-Atlantic institutions.  However, unfortunately, such despicable abuses 
happen everywhere.  As we remember from our own Abu Ghraib scandal, in a number 
of U.S. prison systems recently in Alabama and Michigan where court settlements 
were reached involving hundreds of claimants, and in a country like Albania 
which is a NATO and E.U. candidate.  
It is encouraging that the Georgian leadership promised an impartial 
investigation leading to a comprehensive reform.  We should not expect anything 
less than that.  But looking broadly, by the standards of the former Soviet 
region, these are, as I said, highly competitive election with access not just 
to the media but also with reports of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands 
of people attending rallies for the ruling party and for the opposition.  
The Georgia voters are informed and will have an opportunity to exercise their 
vote, and having election observers on the ground is extremely important and 
crucial.  And I do have confidence in the ODIHR and OSCE observers doing their 
job.  And we should wait for their reports.  
Unlike many countries where anti-American sentiment is rising – including 
Russia, Iran, Turkey – Georgia is truly different.  President George W. Bush 
has a street named after him in the Georgian capital.  Oil, gas, commodities 
and finished goods worth hundreds of millions of dollars move through Georgia 
on a daily basis.  Its geopolitical role, alongside the Black Sea, is a budding 
oil and gas which Azerbaijan and the Caspian is crucial.  
In case of a scenario, vis-à-vis Iran, Georgia is also going to be 
geopolitically, very, very important.  
We heard about the maneuvers – the maneuvers by the Russians that led to the 
war in 2008 may create an intimidating effect if they occur before the 
elections as planned.  
So this is a – we are at a determining point, and in the recent years, in this 
country, in this city, in this administration, focusing blindly on democratic 
process, excluding all other our national interest had become somewhat of a 
fashion.  We're seeing the results in the Middle East.  
The previous U.S. administration and the current one encouraged elections in 
Gaza that brought Hamas to power, encouraged the Muslim Brotherhood to contest 
seats in Egyptian parliament under the previous regime, encouraged the 
elections that brought the Muslim Brotherhood administration in Egypt with the 
results in the long term that may be severely detrimental for American national 
interests.  
Clearly, Georgia is no Egypt.  Saakashvili is no Mubarak.  Georgia, one hopes, 
would rise for the occasion and conduct elections with minimal violations, let 
alone violence.  And let me quote the former assistant secretary of state and 
my boss, Kim Holmes, quote, "Free and fair elections are indispensable to 
democracy.  You can't have democracy without them, but neither can you have 
democracy without an even greater commitment to the values, institutions and 
customs that make it work.”  And I believe that Georgia is in the process of 
creating these commitments to values, institutions and customs that make it 
work.  
As I said, the democracy in Georgia is – started 20 years ago when the Soviet 
Union collapsed.  So far, observer missions from OSCE, IRI and NDI seem to 
report the elections are on track.  We should expect their reports.  We should 
definitely hold the current Georgian government's feet to the fire expecting 
reasonably conducted elections by European standards.  However, we should not 
face an either-or choice or focusing exclusively on elections or pursuing 
American interests.  That's a false choice.  
Mr. Chairman, hopefully, the U.S. can learn from our recent mistakes. Thank you 
very much.  
REP. SMITH:  Thank you so very much.  
Dr. Tsereteli, if you would, proceed.
MAMUKA TSERETELI:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  
It's an honor to be a witness on this commission.  I would like to submit my 
written statement that I also submitted for the record.  Thank you.  
I think timing of this hearing couldn't be more appropriate.  The streets of 
Tbilisi as well as social media is filled with demands and facts reflecting on 
the developments in – related to prison abuse.  Citizens of Georgia ask 
questions how something like that could be happening in the country that has 
European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations; that is known for its tolerance and the 
cordial human relationships.  
Unfortunately, the videos only prove what was said many times by some people 
and, also, was reflected by the U.S. Department of State annual reports on 
human rights.  I don't think that we fully appreciate here in this room the 
magnitude of events unfolding in Georgia at this point.  
Georgia's prison system as well as its pre-trial detention mechanism is an 
important factor in Georgian political, economic and social life which impacts 
the daily lives of thousands of Georgians and their decisions about how they 
deal with the government as well as on how they approach elections.  
There is a failed state in Georgia.  Some government officials assessed prison 
abuse as a systemic problem.  And they are correct.  But this is moral failure 
as well.  
Georgian society is shocked by the facts of abuse of power and maybe cover-up 
that involve high-level officials.  It demands full-scale investigation.  
This abuse can only happen in an environment of unchecked and unbalanced power 
such as exists in Georgia today.  This case increases importance of upcoming 
elections.  
I think it's good news that, despite responding to this crisis and street 
events, both government as well as opposition called on calm.  And the 
opposition, in particular, called against unplanned street events.  
Georgia made visible progress in creating functioning state entities in recent 
years reducing regulatory burdens, developing critical infrastructure and 
eliminating bribery and bureaucracy.  These are distinct achievements, and the 
Georgian people as well as the government deserve credit for those 
achievements.  
But those achievements also raise the bar for expectations for Georgia.  
Georgia is facing difficult security challenges, but it can only meet those 
challenges if it has national consensus on major issues affecting the country.  
The Georgian population has expressed multiple times in referendums and polls 
its desire to join transatlantic and European security and economic 
institutions.  Achieving those strategic objectives require internal stability, 
but stability can only be achieved if political process creates an environment 
of broader political representation in the government.  
Leaders all around the world, heads of state, international institutions, U.S. 
politicians, leadership of NATO, friends of Georgia see the upcoming election 
on October 1st as an important milestone in building Georgia's democratic 
statehood.  Many have called on Georgia to make certain that voters have an 
opportunity to express their free choice and, once they did it, to make sure 
that the results of elections are respected by all the participants of 
political process.  
In recent years, the Georgian political scene has been completed dominated by 
United National Movement of Georgia, or UNM, the party of President 
Saakashvili.  The UNM has won constitutional majority in the parliamental 
elections of May 2008 which has, de facto, created one-party rule in Georgia.  
In fact, Georgia has been ruled by UNM with no significant opposition since 
2004.  Moreover, developments after 2008 elections effectively eliminated 
debate and political collaboration from the Georgian scene.  This has led to 
many harmful internal and external decisions by the Georgian leadership which 
has responded to criticism by frequently suppressing opposition with excessive 
force.  One-party system do not represent the electoral mood in Georgia.  
I would focus very briefly on some of the things that, in my opinion, the 
United States government should do in order to support free election process in 
Georgia and then, hopefully, we'll have some questions and answers.  
I think U.S. should stay actively engaged in Georgia as an important observer 
and facilitate the development.  Success of Georgia is essential for U.S. 
strategic interests in the broader Middle East and Central Asia region, but 
it's also essential for stability – broader stability.  
I think U.S. should entertain frank, public discussion about the state of 
democracy in Georgia.  Georgia has made some progress, and the current 
government has done good things for the country.  But narrative that stresses 
Georgia's liberal credentials need to be recast in light of some significant 
democratic shortfalls.  
Monitor closely unfolding details of the current prison crisis and 
investigation.  
I think U.S. needs to establish strict conditions and benchmarks for the 
Georgian government to ensure the elections are held in a free environment.  
Election monitors from the U.S. government will be very useful.  
U.S. needs to collaborate we closely with the intergovernmental commission on 
election process violations.  I think this commission is doing positive job – 
positively contributing to the process.  
The U.S. should communicate to the Georgian leadership that if there are doubts 
about legitimacy of the elections, the U.S. will not recognize its results.  
Plan to hold another congressional hearing after the elections to review 
progress and announce this in advance to the elections.  The U.S. needs to 
monitor developments after the election as well.  The election process may not 
end by the night of October 1st.  It is possible that the results of the 
election in several districts will be disputed and recounts may be requested.  
In order to avoid confrontation, it is important that there is a process of 
mediation through OSCE or other monitoring groups where the U.S. will be a 
participant.  
I think we need to mount – the United States needs to mount an effort to review 
the state of Georgia's media ensuring access to alternative sources of 
information throughout the country.  Insist on immediate release of satellite 
dishes confiscated by the government, advising any international 
representatives to the Georgian National Communication Commission and then 
closely monitoring its operation will be positive steps.  
Georgia has potential to become democratic state, full-fledged member of the 
transatlantic family of nations.  Their potential needs to be accelerated and 
deepened.  The upcoming elections need to be seen from that perspective.  
Proper conduct of elections will get Georgia closer to that goal.  
Mismanagement of the elections may throw Georgia back for several years or 
maybe even decades.  In the – (inaudible) – of the challenge to Georgia, John 
Stanick (sp) – wrote it is magical place, Georgia, and it becomes dream like 
the moment you have left it.  And the people are magic people.  It is true that 
they have one of the richest and most beautiful countries in the world, and 
they live up to it.  The Georgian people are capable of deciding the right path 
for their future.  Free and fair elections will give them that opportunity.  
Thank you.  
REP. SMITH:  Thank you, Doctor.  
We'll now go to our last, Dr. Gegeshidze.
ARCHIL GEGESHIDZE:  Mr. Chairman, other members, professional staff, thank you 
very much for this wonderful opportunity to share with you some of my 
observations on the situation around elections in Georgia.  
Excuse my academic style of presenting since I come from academia and this is 
my very first time testifying before you.  
Well, I will start with a very short overview of the past – of the democratic 
transformation which Georgia has gone through, then I'll try to characterize 
also shortly the state of affairs in and around the elections, what the 
electoral environment looks like.  And then I'll also try to share with you 
some my observations, but very general – not as specific as Dr. Tsereteli 
presented – some of my observation on what the West in everyone and the United 
States in particular should do in order to facilitate a free and fair election 
process in Georgia.  
The first point is that Georgia's record of democratic transformation is 
controversial.  On the one hand, the country is freer than the immediate 
neighborhood and demonstrates, at times, spectacular success at institutional 
modernization.  The government was able to liberalize the economy, attract 
increased foreign direct investment, improve revenue collection, curb elements 
of small-scale corruption in the public services, streamline inefficient 
administration, legalize the shadow economy, reduce crime, provide 
uninterrupted energy supply and rebuild roads and other infrastructure.  
Among the most important and spectacular successes of the new government has 
been the overthrow of the autocratic leader of Adjara previously defined these 
central governments.  
On the other hand, the overall quality of democracy promotion raises concerns.  
Georgia's political development since the Rose Revolution can be measured in 
various ways, but the Freedom House course indicates an obvious stagnation.  
What actually happened was that all power went to the executive body, and the 
legislative and judicial benches became their perfunctory appendages.  Power 
and the political regime thus became associated with the president.  
Currently, political institutions that provide pluralism and competition are 
manipulated by the ruling elite for one reason, to maintain and expand 
political power.  Critics of the government point at serious setbacks in terms 
of institutionalizing checks and balances eventually leading to serious 
misconduct.  
Further, the existing constitution substantially weakens a legislative body, 
thus disabling it in its exercise of oversight functions.  Also, as the 
executive dominates the political landscape, it increasingly coerces the 
judiciary, curbing its independence.  Additionally, the state intervenes in the 
independence of the media and brutally abuses property rights.  
Georgian democracy has always been hostage to either security concerns or power 
struggle, and this continues over already 20 years.  This is the reason why the 
Georgian reforms in the sphere of democratic transformation were either 
one-sided or inconclusive.  While the emphasis during the reforms was put on 
strengthening the state, little attention was paid to building and 
strengthening democratic institutions and improving human rights.  
Independent judiciary, rule of law and media freedom are the most renowned 
cases of absence of will on the part of the government to reform.  One of the 
recent examples of the inconclusive nature of reforms is Georgia's penitentiary 
system which accommodates one of the highest per capita numbers of prisoners in 
the world.  
Apparently, the government preferred coercion and intimidation as a method of 
managing the overcrowded prisons over modern and civilized standards.  The 
terrible videos we have seen last days prove widespread and systematic torture 
at the prisons.  
From a moral standpoint, it is a big shame for Georgia.  From the political 
standpoint, both domestic and international, it may have far-reaching 
consequences for the government as well as the country and its image.  
None of the elections held since independence had been simultaneously free, 
fair and competitive.  The cleanest of all is the – is considered the October 
1990 elections – still Soviet Union – conducted with little violence during the 
campaign and no evidence of overt interference with the polls and which brought 
to power the nationalist and anti-communist political forces.  
Against this backdrop, the most disputed election since independence had been 
the – has been the presidential election in January 2008.  Critics hold that 
Saakashvili had illegally used budgetary and administrative resources to secure 
victory with a narrow margin over the opposition candidate.  Similar 
allegations were made about the unfairness of the general elections the same 
year.  
Although the international observer missions gave legitimacy to the outcome of 
both events, subsequent official reports admitted massive irregularities at all 
stages of the election process.  
This time around, the picture is mixed.  On one hand, the pre-electoral 
environment is competitive and pluralist.  Also, there are some welcome 
novelties such as the new election code, intergovernmental commission that 
operates under the National Security Council, voters list verification 
commission must carry rules that obligate cable operators to carry TV channels 
with news programs during the campaign period, improved format of public 
debates on the national public TV, et cetera.  
On the other hand, some of these novelties are far from perfect.  For example, 
must-carry rules have not been timely or properly enforced across the country.  
Not all recommendations by the Venice Commission have been incorporated in the 
election code.  Also, the prisoners who have committed minor crimes were given 
electoral rights.  However, in the light of the recent scandal over human 
rights abuse in the penitentiary system, serious doubts arise as to whether the 
inmates will be able to make free choice at the ballot boxes.  
Inversely, overwhelming majority of Georgians living outside the country who 
are perceived to be critical towards the government are practically deprived of 
the right and/or possibility to vote.  
While competitive and pluralist, the pre-electoral environment is too 
polarized.  Reports, for example, from Transparency International, inform us 
about numerous cases of intimidation of opposition activities, physical 
reprisals against opposition supporters, detention and arrest on political 
grounds, selective use of legal resources against the opposition by imposing 
disproportional sanctions, pressure on businesses that support opposition, use 
of public resources for political and electoral process.  
Apparently, the dominant feature of the post-Rose Revolution period wherein the 
ruling party faced a fragmented opposition has made it relax and has taken it 
by surprise by Georgian Dream, the newly emerged opposition coalition.  
As the ruling party dominates at all levels of state governance, it is 
difficult to differentiate the governing political team's activity from the 
electoral activity of the ruling party.  Given the circumstances, the 
opposition coalition faces a state rather than the party as a competitor in the 
elections.  The state portrays the Georgian Dream as an enemy of state by 
accusing of being Russia's fifth column and a retrograde force aiming at 
sending Georgia back to dark and corrupt past.  For most of the public, 
groundlessness of these accusations is obvious.  Nobody believes.  
Meantime, witnessing all these twists and turns, the public remains deeply 
distrustful towards the electoral process, and this is the main disadvantage 
and deficiency of the electoral process.  
As Georgia remains a primary target of Western assistance, some argue that 
future assistance programs should be more carefully structured.  It is believed 
that, with Georgia being the success story of Western democracy support, too 
big a share of the assistance package has gone to the government without 
requiring accountability on spending.  Also, the strong political and financial 
support for Georgia's democratic development after the Rose Revolution has 
backfired to some extent since it has not been backed up by clear benchmarks 
for reform.  
One such benchmark definitely is these elections.  Fair assessment of the whole 
electoral process has a crucial importance for Georgia's future development.  
Sadly, though, in the past, there have been instances of premature assessment 
by international observers that have paid lip service to Georgian democracy as 
well as to the West's reputation in Georgia and the wider region.  
One of the most notorious cases has been a statement by a co-chairman – 
coordinator of the short-term observation mission which said that the 2008 
presidential elections in Georgia was a triumphant step of democracy.  Given 
the extremely polarized environment, we need to avoid such statements and 
assessments.  More so, the international arbiters – monitors need to change the 
criterion of evaluation and, instead of basing their judgment on the comparison 
with the past electoral process, they have to assess how far or how close those 
elections are from those in Western democracies.  
Thank you.  
REP. SMITH:  Thank you very much, Doctor.  
We do have a vote, so we do have to make our way to the floor in a couple of 
minutes.  
But that said, I'll just ask a couple of questions and yield to Mr. Cohen who 
will ask a couple of questions.  
And I think your point about having a follow-up hearing is a good one.  We will 
do that, and it will be done in a very timely manner.  So thank you for that, 
Dr. Tsereteli.  
Let me just ask a couple of questions.  You know, the wealth issue which has 
arisen many times – and, Dr. Cohen, you mentioned it – $6.4 billion you've 
talked about.  You know, even in this country, there's been an ongoing 
fractious debate about how much an individual should spend, how much can be 
spent on a campaign.  Part of it was settled in a Supreme Court case known as 
Buckley versus Valeo, and it's pretty much unlimited by the individual 
candidate towards his or her campaign.  
In my own state, Senator Corzine spent over $60 million for a U.S. Senate seat. 
 I mean, astronomical amount of money, but, you know, our laws allow that to 
happen.  
And I'm wondering if, you know, there is such a check and a balance on all that 
and, you know, both sides have valid points.  Maybe you want to speak to the 
issue of having huge amounts of money and being able to essentially buy a 
campaign.  But I know there are limits.  So maybe you want to speak to that.  
Where will Ivanishvili take Georgia?  I mean, Dr. Cohen, you seemed to speak 
most about that and cite a number of concerns.  And I would appreciate it if 
you'd elaborate on that very quickly.  
And then what our overriding concern has to be is free and fair.  Do you think 
this will be a free and fair election?  Or are the checks and balances already 
baked into the – into what will be an election in 11 days?  Or do you think we 
have reason to be deeply concerned?  
I wish I had more time.  And Mr. Cohen? 
REP. COHEN:  Thank you, Mr. Chair.  
I suspect that the biggest issue which I would like a response to is where you 
think the Georgian Dream would be – if they're successful, where they would 
take the Georgian government different than where it's been and what the 
relationship would be with Russia in terms of how that might affect relations 
with the West.  
And, also, the gentleman mentioned human rights and how you see human rights as 
being permitted by the present government and what differences might exist if 
the Georgian Dream were successful in their election.  And what do you foresee 
for the election?  Has it been – on the conditions to date as far as 
advertising, as far as enforcement of laws and restrictions that may have been 
imposed, has it been fair? 
MR. COHEN:  Gentlemen, excellent questions.  All demonstrate your deep interest 
and expertise.  
Real quick, on the issue of personal wealth, let us make a comparison.  Six 
point whatever billion dollars is more – if my calculations are correct – more 
than a half of Georgia's GDP per annum.  So it would not be comparison with 
Mitt Romney's meager 250 million (dollars) – meager in comparison to Bidzina 
Ivanishvili.  It won't be a Ross Perot.  It would be a guy or a gal with a 
pocket $7 trillion deep.  People like this don't exist on Planet Earth.  
And there is a culture of bypassing official channels of financing in case of 
Russian oligarch, which Mr. Ivanishvili, whether he holds Russian citizenship 
or not, comes from a political culture of oligarchs.  There's a modus operandi 
of cash.  And, you know, if the Georgian government is successfully tracking 
that, good luck.  If they don't, then they can't.  
But I bet you dollars to donuts, you cannot think about this campaign only with 
official figures.  Probably on both sides, but especially when you have one 
big, deep pocket.  
In terms of direction, I think this is a strategic question, and this is 
something I'm grappling with and not a lot is said about that.  And that is 
that whether we like Saakashvili or not, he never studied in Russia – he 
studied in Ukraine and in Colombia – he spent his formative years in Georgia 
and in the United States.  And he built his movement more or less in his image 
in terms of getting a lot of Western-trained people around him.  
Georgia Dream, on the other hand, has a Russian oligarch – a former Russian 
oligarch – as its head, has some first-rate diplomats – Ambassador Japaritza 
(sp), Ambassador Irakli Alasania – which I don't doubt their professional 
quotas.  But that movement also has components that are deeply nationalistic, 
traditionalist, embedded with the church.  And the Georgian Church, parts of 
it, are embedded with the Russian Orthodox Church and, in some cases – 
(inaudible) – and anti-Semitic.  
So I do have concerns about that as well.  And the rhetoric about distancing or 
slowing down the process of NATO integration was a signal.  The rhetoric by Mr. 
Ivanishvili about opening Russian markets, getting closer to Russia are 
understandable because traditionally, for decades and centuries, Georgia did 
export fruit, wine – fruit, wine, mineral water – to Russia.  
But orientation is not the same as the United National Movement which is 
staunchly pro-European.  They are aspiring to bring Georgia into the E.U.  You 
and I can wonder why would you want to join the E.U. at this point, but that's 
their choice.  
Human rights, clearly, there is a place for improvement as we witnessed in the 
prison scandal.  I'm not a computer geek.  I'm not a computer expert.  I cannot 
tell you what is the significance of these recent accusations that they were 
planting malware on the computers.  I think somebody needs to look into that.  
But in terms of human rights, there's always, in every society, a place for 
improvement of individual rights of privacy, of penitentiary system.  No 
question in my mind that things can be done better in Georgia.  
REP. SMITH:  To be totally fair to our other two distinguished witnesses, Mr. 
Cohen and I are going to have to leave in about two minutes.  There's only five 
minutes left on the vote.  But we will leave this open.  Michael Oakes will 
stand by.  And then all of your comments will go not record, and then we'll – 
without objection, we'll do it that way because I want to hear from both of 
you.  We both want to hear from both of you.  So please proceed as long as 
you'd like. 
MR. TSERETELI:  First of all, accusations of Georgian church being – 
(inaudible) – somehow to Russian church is absolutely wrong and false.  And I 
just don't want to go into that discussion.  
There are individuals who may be like individuals from the Georgian government, 
maybe like individuals from opposition maybe, but saying it to the entire 
church, which is most probably one of the bases of stability in Georgia for the 
last decades, I think, is very wrong.  
About the wealth of Mr. Ivanishvili and money and politics, during the 
elections in 2010 in local elections, mayoral elections, Mr. Alisania spent 
about hundred times less than incumbent mayor of Tbilisi, Mr. Ugulava – hundred 
times.  The difference was hundred times.  
So talking about money coming into politics sounds like not very relevant.  
Although I personally do not support large money coming into politics.  So 
there is a limit of how much each party could spend.  And I think government is 
very efficiently pursuing these limits to restrict money spending into Georgian 
politics.  
Onto the issue of future of Georgia.  As my colleague and friend, Ariel, 
mentioned, Mr. Ivanishvili, from the time he announced his participation into 
politics, said that he's relying – he's basing his political group as a core 
group on Mr. Alisania's free Democrats and the Republican Party who's also 
known for its protestant credentials.  
So I think, by that, he expressed his (Protestant ?) orientation from the 
beginning.  And I – we may again have some people in his coalition, like in the 
government, who are willing to maybe change a little bit of the course of 
Georgia's development.  But I don't see major challenges in terms of progress 
and orientation to Georgia.  
Thank you.  
REP. SMITH:  Without objection, at the conclusion of Mr. Gegeshidze's 
statement, the hearing will be adjourned.  But again, this will all be on the 
record, and I thank you. 
MR. GEGESHIDZE:  OK.  Thank you.  
All right.  Well, regarding billions in the election campaign, yes, I also 
would not support big money participating and being used in the election – in 
the election process.  But this is the given fact, the reality.  
And I think that Ivanishvili's billions are less evil than the benefit which 
are the plurality and competitiveness that these elections do have compared to 
the situation wherein Ivanishvili wouldn't have been because Georgia does need 
higher quality democracy, higher quality electoral process.  We, at last, need 
to graduate the very first class of democracy such as electoral democracy 
because all our previous elections have been contested, and it's already 20 
years.  
But still the trust in the public towards elections are very weak, very low.  
And this is very bad for Georgia.  And if not Ivanishvili's appearance, then we 
would not have this competitiveness and, if you wish, certainly, intrigue in 
the process.  
Regarding Russia, well, going deeper into analysis with this Russian origin of 
a person who has made his fortunes there mean?  I don't know.  How many 
American businessmen have made their fortune in Russia or Polish or Estonian or 
Belgian businessmen because Russia was a huge country in the '90s, and 
everybody, if not lazy, would go there and make money.  So this guy also made 
his money.  
But what about the Minister Bendukidze who also made his fortune in the '90s 
but was brought back by this government as the minister of economy and not a 
single word against his Russian origin was ever mentioned by the government.  
Sorry?  (Off mic exchange.)  Yeah.  Well, so I would consider this a very weak 
argument, if it is at all an argument in this discourse.  
Human rights.  Well, the elections are usually – and everywhere, both here and 
in Georgia – about politicians running for the seats in the government, 
promising and voters listening and believing or not believing.  So I cannot 
judge to what extent the – Ivanishvili's government, if it happens to come to 
power, will be more effective in observing human rights because I have not had 
a chance to test that.  
But if one assumes that the human rights record in today's Georgia is very poor 
– very, very poor – and there are almost no improvement since the Rose 
Revolution, and the recent days have demonstrated again where are we standing 
in that regard, I would believe that at least that if Ivanishvili comes to 
power, human rights will be at least no worse than what they are today, if not 
better.  
Well, I think I'll, to save our time, stop here. 
STAFFER:  Ladies and gentlemen, as you've all heard, Chairman Smith and 
Congressman Cohen had to leave to go and vote.  They will not be able to 
return.  So we will adjourn this hearing.  However, as the chairman said, he's 
planning to hold another hearing after the election, and, of course, there will 
be a public notice about when that will be.  In the meantime, I would like to 
take this opportunity to thank all of our witnesses, and this hearing is 
adjourned.  Thank you. 
(END)