Parliament Speaker on Electoral System Reform
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 29 Sep.'15 / 13:31

There is no way to scrap majoritarian component of the electoral system for the next year’s elections, parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili said, and alluded that he had to grudgingly accept a proposal to have fully party-list proportional system for post-2016 elections in order to avoid collapse of the Georgian Dream ruling coalition.

“I will not sign up for coalition’s collapse because of this issue,” he told journalists on September 29.

The GD ruling coalition has initiated draft of constitutional charges to scrap the majoritarian component of the electoral system for the elections that will be held after the 2016 parliamentary polls. The draft is not likely to be passed because it has no backing of opposition lawmakers, who want this change to be introduced for next year’s parliamentary elections.

“On this rhetorical question why tomorrow if it is possible to be done today, I would answer: because that’s possible only tomorrow and not today,” Usupashvili said at a press conference on September 28 when asked about ongoing debates on electoral system. “There are things, which if you try to do today instead of tomorrow you may… spoil other things as well.”

He said that this issue needed unanimous decision within the ruling coalition. “What if there is no agreement [within GD] over this issue? Would it be a right solution to break up the coalition because of this issue? If yes, for whom it would be a right decision? Will the country gain from the collapse of the coalition today?”

“If you tell me that this issue is worth of coalition to be collapsed, I would answer: No,” he said. “I know that the country would be worse off and on the other hand it would also mean holding of the [early] elections under the existing system.”

Georgia currently has a mixed system in which 73 lawmakers are elected in 73 majoritarian, single-mandate constituencies through plurality vote, and rest 77 seats are allocated proportionally under the party-list contest among political parties, which clear 5% threshold.

Although refusing to scrap the majoritarian component for the next year’s parliamentary elections, the GD coalition agrees to introduce number of changes, which it says will improve the existing system for 2016 polls. The proposal offers to replace plurality vote to elect majoritarian MPs in single-mandate constituency with majority vote. That entails increasing the vote threshold required for an outright victory in the first round from the current 30% to 50%.
The proposal also includes redrawing single-mandate districts to provide equality of suffrage – that would put the system in line with the constitutional court’s May 28 ruling, which said that current division of single-mandate, majoritarian constituencies, which vary from each other by number of voters – ranging from over 150,000 voters in the largest one to less than 6,000 voters in the smallest one – undermines equality of vote.

A group of parliamentary and non-parliamentary opposition parties have launched a campaign to collect the signatures of 200,000 citizens required for initiating a constitutional amendment to scrap the majoritarian part of the electoral system for the 2016 parliamentary elections.

Representatives of this group of over dozen of opposition parties held a meeting on September 23 in the Parliament, which was organized by the Free Democrats lawmakers. Speakers at that meeting were unanimous in suggesting that their campaign to collect 200,000 signatures would not yield result as it won’t make GD coalition to accept scrapping of the majoritarian component for next year’s election. They were saying that the opposition should use all the procedural instruments at first and, if in vain, then should resort to street protest rallies.

“Chances for resolving this issue [in Parliament] is exhausting… Every government should prefer to keep processes within the parliament instead of pushing them into the streets, but it seems that this government does not understand it. We should be maximally ready for using these methods [street protest rallies] as well in order to make the authorities to carry out these changes,” UNM MP Levan Tarkhnishvili said at the meeting on September 23.

When some of those parties, which are now in the ruling coalition, specifically the Republican Party, Conservative Party and National Forum, were in the opposition, they were demanding the very same reform of electoral system, which is now pushed for by the current opposition. When UNM, which is now in favor of scrapping the majoritarian part of the electoral system, was strongly against of such reform when it was in power.

Opponents of the existing mixed electoral system argue that it can potentially produce distribution of seats in Parliament different from those reflected in proportional, party-list election results.

Difference between distribution of seats and votes received in party-list contest was obvious in the previous Parliament, when then ruling UNM party was holding over 79% of seats although receiving slightly over 59% of votes in 2008 parliamentary elections. That was because UNM at the time won all but four single-mandate, majoritarian constituencies across the country.
But it was not the case in 2012 elections, when overall seats won by Georgian Dream coalition and UNM, both in majoritarian and proportional contests, mainly matched share of votes they won in party-list contest.

Mismatch, however, was evident in the 2014 local elections for Tbilisi City Council (Sakrebulo), where a similar system is applied, when although receiving 46% of votes in party-list contest, GD gained 74% of seats in Tbilisi Sakrebulo because of winning all but one single-mandate, majoritarian constituencies of the capital city.

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