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Ruling Party MP: New Electoral Code Drafted
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 13 Sep.'11 / 18:25

A new electoral code has been drafted, which will be unveiled in next few days and submitted to the Parliament on September 19, a senior ruling party lawmaker said on Tuesday.

The new electoral code is slated to replace the one passed by the Parliament ten years ago and amended for at least 46 times since then.

MP Akaki Minashvili, who chairs parliamentary committee for foreign affairs and who was one of the ruling party’s negotiators on electoral system reform, told Civil.ge, that the draft was sent on September 12 for expertise to the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal and constitutional affairs.

He said that provisions of electoral system reform deal, reached between the ruling party and some opposition parties in late June, had been reflected in the draft, which also includes other amendments; he, however, declined to speak on specifics saying that the draft would be made public through Parliament’s website in next few days.

MP Minashvili also said that the Parliament would pass the new electoral code with final voting after the Venice Commission provides its final conclusions; he, however, also said that before those conclusions  became available, the Parliament would in parallel launch discussions on the new draft and would probably pass it with its first hearing. He estimated that the process of approving the draft would be finally over before the end of this year.

Last year the Venice Commission recommended Georgia to enact a new electoral code rather than further emending it in order to “help systematise and streamline the provisions, as well as eliminate ambiguities and inconsistencies between the Code’s various articles, which possibly have resulted from frequent amendments in the past years.”

One of the key elements of the electoral system reform deal, reached between the ruling party and several opposition parties, but slammed by an informal grouping of six opposition parties, is to increase number of seats in the Parliament from current 150 to 190 (requiring constitutional amendment).

Under that deal, which according to ruling party lawmaker is reflected in the draft of new code, 107 MPs will be elected through party-list, proportional system and 83 seats will be allocated to majoritarian MPs elected in single-mandate constituencies. In the sitting Parliament these two types of seats are split equally – 75/75.

Electoral System in Leaked Cables

Several pre- and post-May, 2008 parliamentary election confidential U.S. embassy cables, released by WikiLeaks, show the U.S. diplomats raising the issue of electoral system with the senior ruling party officials with one cable noting the need of changing “ingrained ways of ensuring unanimous victories for the ruling party.”
 
One confidential cable, sent to Washington by then U.S. ambassador John Tefft on June 2 2008, few days before the new Parliament held its inaugural session, spells out several reasons why the electoral system favors the ruling party.

“Primarily, the system diminishes the impact of the vote in the cities (where the opposition is stronger) as the allocation of seats is done by district rather than by population,” the cable reads.

At the time variance was ranging from less than 6,000 voters in the smallest constituency to over 150,000 voters in the largest one.

That wide disparity between the constituencies will be partially addressed in the electoral reform deal by envisaging dividing the ten largest constituencies with over 100,000 registered voters into two, thus increasing number of majoritarian seats in the Parliament.

Variance, however, will still remain; after dividing those ten largest constituencies, size of newly created ones will vary from about 52,000 to over 80,000 voters; in addition there will still remain five constituencies with less than 10,000 voters and there will be between 10,000 and 50,000 in 42 other constituencies.

Another factor making the majoritarian system favor the ruling party is the rule of electing majoritarian MP wherein in order to win, a candidate has to receive more than others, but not less than 30% of votes. Opposition parties were demanding in vain increasing threshold to 50% that would have increased chances for a runoff – the demand rejected by the ruling party.

In a separate cable, sent in June 2008, few days after the Parliament held its inaugural session, the U.S. diplomat was reporting to Washington about the need by the new Parliament to address “ingrained ways of ensuring unanimous victories for the ruling party”, including through changing “the manner in which MPs will be elected in the future”, particularly by diminishing the discrepancies among the majoritarian districts.

Some other confidential cables show the U.S. diplomats raising the issue with senior Georgian officials couple of months before the parliamentary elections in 2008.

The March, 2008 confidential cable recounts a meeting between then Ambassador Tefft and Giga Bokeria, who at the time was a ruling party lawmaker and now is secretary of National Security Council. At the time heated debates were ongoing about the electoral system with ruling party proposing increasing majoritarian seats from 50 to 75 with the opposition protesting against the proposal with street rallies.

“When we suggested that this current proposal [of splitting seats equally between majoritarian and party-list MPs 75/75] would likely perpetuate the dominance of a single party, which was not helpful to Georgian democracy overall, Bokeria countered that the problem is that reform would stop should the opposition gain enough seats to block ruling party votes.  A real opposition to UNM, he said, would come out of its break-up, rather than out of the existing opposition parties,” the cable reads.

The June 2 2008 cable analyzes results of the elections wherein ruling party took 119 out of 150 seats, including 71 out of 75 available majoritarian seats in the Parliament.

“In the long run, the UNM's overwhelming victory in Parliament will allow reform in Georgia to continue apace. This is a positive result for U.S. interests.  We will be pressing for early adoption of the Criminal Procedure Code, a key element to advancing judicial reform and independence,” the cable reads.
 
It, however, also notes that “one of the evolutionary steps that is needed to deepen democracy in Georgia is a multi-party Parliament that acts as a real check on the Executive -- although not so much so that that reform stops altogether.”

“This will take time and is something that the U.S. should continue to support through diplomacy and assistance,” the cable reads. “We will need to continue to emphasize to the Government and the ruling party in Parliament the importance of multi-party systems and strong parliaments to established democracies.”

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