The ruling party gained a major boost ahead of parliamentary elections this May with Parliament's endorsement on March 21 of an elction system opposed by the opposition.
An amendment to the election code passed with the final reading with 134 votes to two, envisages electing one majoritarian MP in each of the 75 single-mandate constituencies in the new 150-member legislative body. The remaining 75 seats will be distributed among lawmakers elected through a party-list, proportional system.
The ruling party is better positioned to gain more majoritarian seats under this system, especially as the law stipulates that a candidate winning more than others and more than 30% of the vote would be declared the outright winner in the first round without the need for a runoff.
MP Davit Berdzenishvili of the opposition Republican Party tried at the hearings on March 21 to push for a proposal to increase the 30% threshold to 50%. The ruling party, however, rejected it, knowing that a potential runoff would not favor it.
The opposition wanted 75 majoritarian MPs to be elected through so called ‘regional proportional lists.’
“The entire opposition [eight-party opposition coalition, New Rights and Republican parties] has agreed and there is one single demand – to have 75 majoritarian MPs elected through multi-mandate constituencies. By voting in favor of your proposal you are further deepening the crisis in the country,” MP Berdzenishvili told the ruling party shortly before the vote. He and another colleague from the Republican Party, Davit Zurabishvili, were the only opposition MPs at the hearing.
Meanwhile, March 21 marks the thirteenth day in a hunger strike for five politicians from the eight-party coalition - three of whom are MPs. Six lawmakers from the New Rights Party camped just outside Nino Burjanadze’s office inside Parliament are on their twelfth day (MP Irakli Iashvili joined his colleagues on March 13).
The opposition said it was ready to end the hunger strike if the ruling party supported its proposal on multi-mandate constituencies. But the ruling party said it would not yield to the hunger strikers' “ultimatum.”
Other amendments to the election code, passed with the final reading on March 21, also preclude an independent candidate from running in the majoritarian MP elections; only a political party or an election bloc can nominate a majoritarian MP candidate. The ruling party said this proposal was included in the amendments on the request of the opposition.
Another opposition proposal increased the time for submitting election-related complaints from one to two days was also accepted. But the law also says that potential court proceedings over election complaints will not delay the summarizing of election results. The results of the parliamentary elections should be summarized within 20 days after polling day, according to the election code.
Amendments to the election code have also abolished additional voter lists and the accompanying practice of voter registration on polling day.
Election observers and other election stake-holders will have the right to immediately access CCTV polling station footage. They will, however, have to indicate a concrete time for an alleged violation and will only be given access to that particular, 15-minute, portion of footage, according to the amendments.
The ruling party also accepted an opposition request to remove from the amendments a provision allowing public officials to become members of election commissions.
The amendments also entail an increase in the number of district election commission (DEC) members from five to 13, with six to be appointed by opposition parties (the same rule would apply to the composition of precinct commissions and the Central Election Commission). Currently all five members in each of the 75 DECs are certified election officials. Nominally they are independent of any party, but in fact are ruling party nominees. The DECs will also have increased powers, with the right to tabulate votes cast in the precincts and the right to cancel election results at given polling stations. DECs were denied these rights during the January 5 presidential election.