By Cory Welt

Center For American Progress
May 30 2012

Testimony Before the U.S. Helsinki Commission

CAP Adjunct Fellow Cory Welt testifies before the U.S. Helsinki
Commission. Read the full testimony (CAP Action)

Thank you to the Helsinki Commission for convening this briefing. I
appreciate the opportunity to join this distinguished group of

I want to first make some observations relevant to all three states,
and will then address some issues specific to Armenia's parliamentary
elections earlier this month and Georgia's upcoming parliamentary
elections in October. I will conclude with a brief comment on

My first point is 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
only happened in 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 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-the casting, counting, and
recording of ballots-than to the overwhelming power advantages with
which authorities are able to control or at least greatly influence the
country's overall political climate, including campaign and election
processes, legal and judicial contexts, and public expectations
and opinion-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 vs. majoritarian
electoral systems for constructing multiparty democracy. In the
Caucasus, the conclusion is clear: The more majoritarian seats
there have been in parliament, the better it has been for the party
in power. Particularly in Armenia and Georgia, mixed systems with
a majoritarian component repeatedly lead to substantially greater
ruling party representation in parliament than there would be in a
strictly party-list system.

As a result of these considerations (and others), elections in Armenia,
Georgia, and Azerbaijan have tended to reinforce-or at least not
weaken-the power of those in power in ways that fall short of normal
democratic practice.

CAP Adjunct Fellow Cory Welt testifies before the U.S. Helsinki

From: A. Papazian