The ruling National Movement party tabled on March 9 a list of proposals over electoral system reform it deems possible to be implemented before the next year’s parliamentary elections.
The proposals, made in a bullet-point form, were presented at a meeting of inter-party working group – a negotiating body launched in November for the election system reform.
The eight opposition parties, which developed and submitted their joint proposals to the working group last year, have been complaining recently that the ruling party was delaying unveiling its proposals. These eight parties do not form any formal coalition and their positions vary on various issues, but they have an agreement to speak in one voice within the inter-party working group on election reform-related issues.
One of the key components in the ruling party’s proposal involves an offer to increase number of majoritarian MPs elected in single-mandate constituencies.
The number of majoritarian MPs and, most importantly the rule of their election, is one of the key issues as it can largely determine distribution of power in the legislative body.
Currently 75 seats in the Parliament are filled through proportional-party list system and the rest 75 lawmakers are elected in single-mandate constituencies through winner-takes-all system. Under this system ruling party managed to win in 2008 elections 71 out of 75 majoritarian seats.
Considering this system benefiting the ruling party, given the fragmentation of the opposition, the eight opposition parties offered in their joint proposal to change the rule with so called “regional-proportional system” in which multi-mandate majoritarian constituencies will be introduced, wherein number of seats in each constituency will depend on its size.
The ruling party’s proposal unveiled on March 9 does involves change of current rule of electing majoritarian MPs. It, however, offers to increase their number, citing the need to secure principle of the equality of the vote.
The current election code does not require single-mandate constituencies to be of equal or comparable size, as a result number of voters within individual electoral districts may vary from few thousand to over 100,000 and each of them are electing one majoritarian MP.
After the May, 2008 parliamentary elections, the OSCE-led international observation mission recommended the authorities to revise electoral district boundaries in order to protect the equality of the vote.
Citing this recommendation the ruling party offered to increase number of majoritarian MPs from one to two in those constituencies, where number of voters exceeds 100,000. Although not specified in the proposal, but the move may imply dividing such constituencies into two separate electoral districts.
There are total of ten such constituencies in Georgia where number of voters are more than 100,000; these 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.
The proposal, if implemented, may also involve change of overall number of lawmakers in the legislative body.
The ruling party’s proposal includes three possible options in this regard; according to the one it is possible to maintain current number of 150 seats in the Parliament, wherein 83 will be filled by the majoritarian MPs (instead of current 75) and 67 seats, instead of current 75, will be distributed through proportional system.
In second possible option, the ruling party offers to increase total number of MPs to 158, wherein 75 will be elected based on party-list system and 83 – through majoritarian system. The third possible option involves increasing total number of MPs to 166 and splitting seats equally between 83 majoritarian and 83 party-list MPs.
In all three options number of majoritarian MPs stands at 83, despite the fact that the proposal envisages increase of current 75 majoritarian seats by ten. Those 75 include two majoritarian MPs elected from Liakhvi and Akhalgori – constituencies which before the August, 2008 war were under the Tbilisi’s control in breakaway South Ossetia. The fate of these two mandates in the next parliamentary elections has yet to be decided – the seats can either be scrapped or those currently holding those two seats will maintain it automatically in the new parliament as well.
The ruling party has also offered to lift a ban on independent candidates to run for the majoritarian MP seat in a single-mandate constituency. Currently the election code does not allow an independent candidate to run for the majoritarian MP seat, meaning that a candidate should only be nominated by a political party. Although amending this provision has been recommended by OSCE-led international observation mission, the issue has never been pushed for by the opposition.
The ruling party has also proposed to draw up voter list for the next parliamentary elections based on biometric identification system only in Tbilisi, instead of applying the system throughout the country as offered by the eight opposition parties.
It has also offered to grant the right to vote to those convicts who are sentenced to not more than three years in jail for unintended crimes. Currently persons who are in prison under a final sentence are not entitled to vote, but those in pre-trial detention awaiting trial have the right to vote. But as indicated in the findings of the OSCE-led international observation mission, during the May, 2010 local elections most of the detainees in pre-trial custody were not able to vote allegedly because they did not have ID cards. The mission recommended the authorities to ensure the voting rights of detainees in pre-trial detention by providing them, in due time, with their ID documents.
In other proposals the ruling party has also offered increase of deadline for consideration of electoral complaints from current two to three days; increase of fines for violation of election code; re-check of voter list by the political parties and providing additional funding for that purpose.
Judging from the remarks made by the opposition negotiators after the inter-party working group’s meeting on March 9, the biometric voter registry seems to be the issue on which, despite still remaining differences, the sides can find more common ground than on other issues.
“I am sure [the proposal over biometric registry] they have tabled today is their starting position and as a result of further consultations we will be able to reach more results; so I am optimistic about this process… and we hope it will be possible to reach a result within a month or month and a half,” MP Levan Vepkhvadze of the Christian-Democratic Movement said.
“This is a starting point for the negotiations and I am sure that agreement will be possible through compromises,” Irakli Chikovani of Our Georgia-Free Democrats party said.
But issues such increase of number of majoritarian MPs or granting certain category of convicts the right to vote will likely become a sticking point.
“It does not leave an impression that the authorities are ready for fundamental reforms, because it [the proposals] does not reflect many of those issues, which were raised in the opposition’s joint proposals... But at the same time I can neither say today that the government is not at all ready for such reform. It will become clearer in the nearest future,” Davit Usupashvili, the leader of opposition Republican Party, said.