The ruling National Movement party signed a deal with several other parties, including with Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM) and New Rights Party, setting up electoral system for the next parliamentary elections in 2012.
The deal, rejected by six opposition parties, is based on proposals tabled by the ruling party on June 24; the final text of agreement, however, contains some amendments, including in regard to campaign funding scheme, and specifies some other provisions.
According to the deal, relevant amendments to the election code should be made by October, 2011.
According to the agreement number of lawmakers in the new Parliament will be increased from the current 150 to 190, wherein 107 will be elected through party-list, proportional system and 83 seats will be allocated to majoritarian MPs elected in single-mandate constituencies.
Increase of number of parliamentary seats will require passing of constitutional amendments by the Parliament, but the move in itself is likely to become a highly controversial. Number of seats in the Parliament was reduced from 235 to 150 in a referendum held in 2003. Georgia’s law on referendum, however, says that a decision, taken as a result of referendum, can only be revised or canceled through new referendum.
Under the existing system 150 seats in the Parliament are split equally (75/75) between MPs elected through party-list and majoritarian systems.
According to the proposal number of majoritarian MPs will be increased to 83 at the expanse of creating ten new single-mandate constituencies, by dividing those constituencies into two where number of registered voters exceeds 100,000; such constituencies are: five large towns, including Kutaisi, Zugdidi, Gori, Rustavi and Batumi, as well as five election districts in the capital city, Tbilisi, involving Gldani, Samgori, Nadzaladevi, Saburtalo and Isani.
Among those 75 majoritarian MPs currently holding seats in the Parliament there are two who were elected in May, 2008 elections in Liakhvi and Akhalgori – constituencies which before the August, 2008 war were under the Tbilisi’s control in breakaway South Ossetia.
Although not directly mentioned the fate of these two mandates in the text of the agreement on new system, but the fact that number of majoritarian MPs will be 83 and not 85 (the proposal envisages creating ten new single-mandate constituencies) indicates that these two constituencies will be scrapped under the new system.
Under the new constitution two-third of votes will be needed to override presidential veto on constitutional amendments, which in case of 190-member Parliament will be 127 votes; to override presidential veto on prime ministerial candidate during constructive non-confidence vote Parliament will need three-fifth of votes, which in case of 190 seats will be 114 votes.
Under the existing system, wherein a majoritarian MP is elected through winner-takes-all rule (this rule will remain in the new system too), the ruling party endorsed its candidates in 71 out of 75 single-mandate constituencies in 2008 parliamentary elections. In addition the ruling party endorsed 48 lawmakers through proportional, party-list system after receiving 59.18% of votes. As a result, although the National Movement in party-list contest received 59.18% support, it managed to take total of 119 seats, which makes 79.3% of seats in the 150-member legislative body.
If the scenario of 2008 elections repeats itself in 2012 parliamentary polls (ruling party garnering 59.18% of votes in party-list system and winning 71 out of proposed 83 majoritarian seats), the ruling party will control up to 70% of seats in the 190-member Parliament – less in percentage points than now (79.3%), but still larger majority than its overall share of the vote.
In order to verify accuracy of voter lists, the ruling party is offering to establish a special commission composed of representatives from the authorities, opposition and civil society organizations "on parity basis." Chairman of the commission will be a representative of an opposition party.
Only those parties will be eligible to take seat in the commission, which have decided to join this deal on proposed electoral system reform.
The commission's work will be funded from the state budget.
The commission should secure verification of voter list in a period between October 1, 2011 and July 1, 2012.
In its previous proposal tabled on March 9, the ruling party, was offering to draw up voter list based on biometric identification system only in Tbilisi; the opposition was pushing for applying such system throughout the country. The current deal does not at all envisages this provision.
Party, Campaign Funding
The ruling party’s proposal initially envisaged allocating GEL 1 million from the state budget to those parties, which clear 5% electoral threshold in the next parliamentary elections on the condition that that party was part of this deal.
This provision triggered speculation and accusations that the authorities were trying to buy opposition parties participation into the deal and as a result the final text no longer includes this clause.
According to the final text, all the parties, without exception, will receive GEL 1 million in case of clearing 5% threshold in order to cover election campaign costs.
GEL 300,000 out of this sum will specifically be used for covering TV advertisement cost. Prices on political TV ads ahead of elections usually are increasing ten-fold on the most-watched national broadcasters.
The proposal also envisages doubling of limits set for donations to a party's electoral campaign fund.
The proposal offers to allow a party to receive GEL 60,000 as a donation from a single individual and GEL 200,000 from a single company.
According to the existing electoral code, a party can raise no more than GEL 30,000 from a single individual and no more than GEL 100,000 from a single company.
In the May, 2010 local elections campaign of those five parties, which have cleared 5% electoral threshold was worth of up to GEL 16 million and almost 90% of this sum was the ruling National Movement's share. Much of the ruling party’s funding came from companies with most of them operating in road construction business.
In other proposals the deal includes a provision to increase deadline for consideration of electoral complaints from current two to four days.
A governmental inter-agency task force will be created from July 1, 2012 in order to address possible violations in respect of use of administrative resources. Similar group was working in previous elections as well, but as some local election watchdog groups say the inter-agency task force didn’t “always manage to conduct a timely investigation of electoral violations.”
The deal also involves media monitoring of campaign coverage and for this purpose a foreign firm will be hired by the Central Election Commission (CEC). The latter was doing the same in previous elections, but after reflecting provision of the deal into election code, the commission will be obliged to hire a foreign firm for this purpose not the local one.
As of Monday evening the deal was signed by the five parties – ruling National Movement; Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM); New Rights; National-Democratic Party and On Our Own.
Before announcing about their decision to accept the ruling party’s proposals on June 27, New Rights and CDM were part of the group of eight – a coalition which had an agreement since October, 2010 to speak with one voice with the authorities on electoral-related issues.
The New Rights Party said its decision was motivated by pragmatism, arguing that despite shortcomings, in overall, the deal was already “some result”, which was better than being left empty-handed.
Similar position was voiced by the CDM, saying that the deal was not the best option, but it was better than the existing system. The CDM also said it was not in favor of “all or nothing” approach, because such a tactic had failed to bring any result at all in the past.
Other six opposition parties from the grouping, formerly known as group of eight, slammed the deal saying that it was offering only superficial, “façade changes” failing to secure fundamental improvement of the electoral system.
“We continue struggle for fair elections and change of the government through [elections]. Together we will turn this struggle into a large-scale civic movement for “Free Elections” and achieve victory together with the people,” the six opposition parties said in a joint statement on June 27.
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