Parliament passed with its first hearing a package of constitutional amendments, one of which controversially reintroduces an election system allowing for 75 majoritarian MPs.
The package, which was passed with 168 votes to two, envisages scrapping the system of electing majoritarian MPs through the winner-takes-all rule and replacing it with one wherein one majoritarian lawmaker will be elected from each of the 75 constituencies.
If approved on the second and third hearings, the number of majoritarian MPs in the new parliament will increase from 50 – as currently mandated in the constitution – to 75 and those elected through the proportional party-list system will go from 100 to 75.
Opposition lawmakers have condemned the proposal with some even threatening to resume protest rallies.
“There will again be street protest rallies and tents,” MP Kakha Kukava of the Conservative Party, part of the eight-party opposition coalition, told Civil.Ge after the vote. “No further negotiations will take place [with the ruling party].”
He said Nino Burjanadze, the parliamentary chairperson, was “a liar” because the ruling party had retracted its initial pledge to endorse the opposition-supported so-called ‘regional proportional lists’ for electing majoritarian MPs.
Regional proportional lists allow parties or election blocs to nominate several candidates in each constituency (the number of seats available would depend on the size of the constituency). Fifty majoritarian seats in the parliament, with this system, would be allocated proportionally, based on the votes received by parties in a particular constituency. The system entails setting an election threshold and would preclude independent candidates, as all candidates must be nominated by a party or an election bloc.
Initially, it seemed that this system had received the backing of the ruling party. In its February 14 memorandum issued in response to opposition demands, the party said: “If there is consensus between the political forces, the majoritarian election system will be replaced by the regional proportional system. Relevant draft constitutional amendments have already been initiated and assuming consensus, the amendments will be in force by the end of March.”
However, the majority of sitting majoritarian lawmakers, many of whom are seen to be ruling party loyalists, moved to defend the system that secured their election in 2003 and pushed for the relevant amendment. Although officially not a ruling party initiative, opposition lawmakers have alleged that the party’s hidden hand was behind it.
While regional proportional lists would have improved the opposition's prospects, the system proposed now significantly reduces their chances.
At a joint news conference following the vote, the Conservative and Movement for United Georgia parties - both opposition bloc members - and the Industrialists, New Rights and Republican parties, pledged to coordinate activities to prevent the amendment gaining final approval.
“Saakashvili's weakling regime, which is not recognized by the Georgian people, has again committed a crime,” MP Levan Gachechiladze, leader of the eight-party opposition coalition, said at the news conference. “It is an attempt to steal the parliamentary elections… They have breached previous agreements… We will confront this with a united opposition front.”
As well as President Saakashvili, he also said Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze should assume responsibility for any consequences arising from Parliament’s March 4 decision.
“We, the opposition parties – and I hope the Labor Party also shares this position - will coordinate joint activities to confront this outrageous decision of the ruling party,” MP Davit Gamkrelidze, leader of the New Rights Party, said at the news conference.
The Republican Party, which had recently quit the then nine-party opposition coalition (reducing it to eight) to run independently in the forthcoming elections, said it would reconsider its decision if the the proposed amendment is given final approval.