The authorities are to have seven members and the opposition six in the Central Election Commission and in each of the precinct election commissions, according to draft amendments to the election code passed by Parliament on its second hearing on November 20.
Six opposition parties - Labor Party, Conservatives, Republicans, Industrialists, New Rights and Freedom – will be eligible to appoint one representative each to the Central Election Commission (CEC).
Currently there are only seven members in the CEC. The current chairman of the CEC, Levan Tarkhnishvili, as well as the six other members, are expected to retain their seats in the CEC as government nominees.
A similar rule will apply to the composition of the lower level election administrations, known as precinct election commissions.
A nine-party opposition coalition has been pushing for equal representation – six each – for both the opposition and the ruling party in the CEC and lower level administrations. Two other opposition parties, New Rights and Industrialists, however, endorsed the amendments.
No changes in the composition of middle-level election administrations, known as District Election Commissions (DEC), are to be introduced. DEC powers will, however, be cut and they will no longer be able to annual or count vote tallies received from the precinct commissions. DECs will only have, what lawmakers called, “transit functions”, linking precincts with the Central Election Commission.
The CEC will decide on the most important issues, including the registration of candidates and the annulment of election results in polling stations, with a 2/3s majority vote, according to the amendments. It means that nine out of the 13 members of the CEC will be needed to endorse decisions.
Polling stations, or precincts, according to the amendments, should be set up and composed 38 days prior to the elections.
The maximum number of voters to be registered in a single precinct will be lowered from the current 2,000 to 1,500. However, there are about 150 polling stations, mostly in rural areas, where that figure may be exceeded.
The amendments also involve the abolition of a quorum for second-round presidential elections. There is no quorum required for the first round.
Minor restrictions on the monitoring of elections by international observers will also be lifted and they will now be able to visit any polling station at any time on polling day.
Military servicemen will be able to vote either at their home precinct or where they are stationed.
The amendments also envisage the equal allocation of free air time for presidential candidates nominated by state-funded political parties. Candidates will be able to use 30 seconds of free airtime every three hours on private TV stations and 60 seconds every hour on the Georgian Public Broadcaster.
No decision has been taken regarding the registration of voters on polling day. Although the CEC has been carrying out a re-check of voter lists, it is expected that there will be many inaccuracies, as there is little time left before the early presidential elections scheduled for January 5. The opposition is against registering voters on polling day, fearing voter fraud - what is popularly known as ‘merry-go-round’ voting. The old adage - "vote early, vote often" - is at the forefront of their worries.
The issue is due to be discussed at the third and final hearing into the amendments.