USAID Announces New Partnership to Support Electoral and Political Processes

Friday, October 18, 2019
USAID Georgia Mission Director Peter Wiebler giving opening remarks.

A citizen-centered approach to supporting more transparent elections and more responsive politics. A renewed emphasis on broadening USAID’s partner base. A sharper focus on engaging individuals and organizations working in Georgia’s regions. Recognition that self-reliance starts with more engaged citizens.

These themes dominated “Countdown to 2020: Empowered Citizens for Responsive Politics,” a public launch event for USAID/Georgia’s new, four-year, $14 million Elections and Political Processes initiative. Taking place in Tbilisi on October 18, the event featured officials from the U.S. and Georgian governments, local partner organizations, political experts, and citizens from across the political spectrum.

“Georgia is standing at a very important moment”

The day began with opening remarks from Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood. CDA Rood discussed the United States’ long-standing support for Georgian democracy. She also noted the significance of Georgia’s ongoing electoral reform. CDA Rood remarked that: “Georgia is standing at a very important moment in its democratic development because the anticipated move to fully proportional parliamentary elections in 2020 presents the potential for the strengthening of democratic institutions, the creation of more pluralism, and democratic institutions that are ever more responsive to the needs of citizens. For this potential to be realized, however, it is very important that the electoral reforms currently under consideration address the shortcomings that have been identified by international observers and domestic observers.”

Following remarks from CDA Rood, Speaker of Parliament Archil Talakvadze thanked the U.S. Government and the American people for their long-standing support for Georgia’s democratic institutions. He expressed optimism that USAID’s new program will strengthen electoral integrity and contribute to more responsive politics, highlighting the importance of greater youth engagement.  

Central Election Commission Chair Tamar Zhvania also gave remarks, emphasizing the importance of educating citizens about the anticipated electoral reforms. She also addressed the young people in attendance, calling on them to take responsibility for building a more democratic future.

“Our new program will build up the demand side of responsive politics”

Following the opening remarks, USAID/Georgia Mission Director Peter Wiebler presented the details of the new initiative. Over the next four years, USAID will partner with nine international and Georgian civil society organizations (CSOs) to empower civic engagement and support stronger oversight over political institutions. The Elections and Political Processes initiative will be the U.S. Government’s primary electoral assistance initiative for Georgia’s 2020 and 2021 electoral cycles and beyond.

“Our initiative will work on both the demand and supply-sides of responsive politics,” Wiebler explained. “Our partners will equip citizens with the tools, skills, and knowledge to communicate their interests and hold elected officials to account.” Partners will also “build the capacity of parties across the spectrum to better link with constituents and present issues-based platforms.”

Mr. Wiebler reminded the audience that U.S. Government support for Georgian democracy is focused on procedural integrity rather than specific parties or personalities: “USAID’s support for electoral and political development is non-partisan. We do not choose favorites. We support all significant, democratically-minded parties equallyWe are proud to support our partners and Georgian citizens and the ambitious vision they have set for Georgia’s future.” 

Nine Partners, seven Projects, one Goal

As Mr. Wiebler outlined in his presentation, the Elections and Political Processes initiative comprises seven projects implemented by nine partners. The large scale and scope make it the U.S. Government’s primary support mechanism for the 2020 and 2021 electoral cycles. While each partner carries out different activities, all are working toward a common goal: to help Georgia build the conditions for citizen-responsive politics, enhancing the country’s long-term capacity to plan and implement its own development agenda.

Spearheading the initiative is the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS). Under CEPPS, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) is supporting electoral reform and administration, the International Republican Institute (IRI) is focused on building capacity in political parties, and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) supports civic organizations to better advocate their interests.

Six Georgian CSOs also count among the program’s partners. Two of them, the Georgian Institute of Politics (GIP) and the Eastern European Centre for Multiparty Democracy (EECMD), are working to bolster civic participation in political processes. The remaining four local partners – The Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA); the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED); the Public Movement Multi-National Georgia (PMMG); and Transparency International Georgia (TI) – provide a range of oversight activities, from election observation to political finance and electoral litigation monitoring.

“Youth Engagement is Necessary for Democratic Progress”

Following Mr. Wiebler’s presentation, two expert panels debated the key challenges facing Georgian democracy. In a panel moderated by Nino Gelashvili of RFE-RL, five Georgian experts grappled with the anticipated shift to proportional representation, discussing how to ensure that Georgian society is prepared for the change.

“[Proposed] reforms are positive but not sufficient,” said EECMD Director Levan Tsutskiridze. He emphasized the need for CSOs to do a better job of informing citizens and getting them more engaged in politics. This sentiment was echoed by GIP Director Kornely Kakachia, who stressed that “youth engagement is necessary for greater democratic progress.”

In the second panel moderated by NDI Deputy Chief of Party Tamara Sartania, experts discussed the role of watchdog organizations in Georgia’s evolving political landscape. “We need to get people informed about the reforms, especially people in rural areas,” said IFES Country Director Keti Maisuradze. Maisuradze discussed her organization’s outreach efforts in Georgia’s regions; with support from USAID, they are crossing the country to ensure that citizens are informed about electoral processes and reforms.

Arnold Stepanian of PMMG also emphasized regional issues. “Proportional representation is a good thing, but unless we do more work in the regions, it won’t improve the quality of elections,” he said. “Georgian society doesn’t have [sufficient] knowledge about minority communities.”

Last updated: October 31, 2019

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