Elections are sensitive times in Georgia, with rising media attention directed towards politicians. As a result, politicians have become more cooperative with the public, and use the opportunity to discuss critical social and political issues. This has bolstered the discourse in the pre-election period in Georgia, and is the underlying reason for four Georgian civil society organizations (CSOs) working on the Open Government Partnership (OGP) to unite around the table and discuss the future of Tbilisi’s participation in OGP subnational pilot program.
The Tbilisi city municipality has been a pioneer within the program since its founding in 2016. The city’s subnational action plan is designed to make municipal policy transparent, open, and inclusive. Guaranteeing the continuation of the program is of vast importance to CSOs, as it represents a great tool to advocate for challenging policy issues.
The four non-profit organizations involved (Open Society Georgia Foundation, Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association, Transparency International, and the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information) came up with a declaration text for the candidates who are running for mayor. The text of the declaration guaranteed that if candidates undertook the office, they would:
- uphold commitments of the existing OGP action plan;
- co-create the next action plan through assuming ambitious, effective commitments and based on the needs of the population, and stringently focusing on their implementation;
- promote the establishment of independent structural units in Tbilisi City Hall, and ensure regular participation of high-ranking officials in OGP; and
- strengthen cooperation with public associations, including through greater stakeholder involvement.
The initiative was a success, as all major candidates signed the declaration publicly. It turned political changes from potential threats to potential benefits, as the campaign influenced candidates to guarantee that political changes wouldn’t affect the continuation and implementation of the subnational program. In civil society, we believe that the declaration was successful and helped guarantee future progress:
We managed to strengthen the idea of OGP’s importance in wider political groups. In the process of campaigning, CSOs were able to reach out to candidates with different political backgrounds and deliver detailed information on OGP through consultations, roundtables, and forums. As the result, the declaration was actively shared on social networks and covered during candidates’ media appearances. The candidate of the ruling party went as far as to organize a meeting with the Minister of Justice (the OGP country point of contact) to underline his awareness of the importance of OGP.
The campaign served as a chance for awareness rising for public. Both the public and the media learned more about the OGP program and the opportunities that come with it.
The declaration has created a tool for holding city government accountable. The declaration will serve as a future mechanism for CSOs to measure the enactment of OGP-committed policy by the future Mayor of Tbilisi against the pledges issued during the times of his/her candidacy.