The Parliament approved on December 20 with its first reading draft of electoral code, which has been modified since it was first introduced three months ago to reflect some, but not all, of the recommendations from the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal and constitutional affairs.
The modified draft also reflects a new deal on electoral system according to which slightly changes the current 75/75 distribution of seats between majoritarian and party-list MPs. In the next Parliament there will be 73 majoritarian MPs elected in single-mandate constituencies and 77 lawmakers elected through party-list, proportional system.
One of the new provisions, which have been added to the draft in line with the Venice Commission’s recommendations, is to allow independent candidates to run for majoritarian MP seat in the single-mandate constituencies, as well as for City Council membership in local elections and Tbilisi mayoral office. Currently only a candidate nominated by a political party or an election bloc can run for office.
Opposition parties have always been reluctant towards such change, because they believe it would give the ruling party more room for maneuvering during majoritarian contest in single-mandate constituencies. Previously independent candidates were allowed to run for the majoritarian seat in single-mandate constituency and in the Parliament many of such candidates were believed to be in fact pro-government. Independent candidates were precluded from running for majoritarian MP seat ahead of the 2008 parliamentary elections upon the opposition’s request.
Also on December 20 the Parliament adopted with its first reading election-related draft of constitutional amendments, which, among other issues, also envisages allowing inmates convicted for less grave crimes to cast ballot in elections.
The draft of election code, passed with its first reading, envisages canceling voter marking procedure on the election day. The system of marking a finger with special invisible ink to avoid multiple voting has been in practice in Georgia since partially annulled November 2003 parliamentary elections. A senior ruling party MP Pavle Kublashvili said that his party was ready to further discuss this issue before final approval of the draft and indicated that voter marking might remain in practice.
Taking into consideration a recommendation by the local watchdog groups, the ruling party has agreed to allow taking photos/video at polling stations by persons authorized to be present at precincts. The draft, however, in line with the Venice Commission’s recommendation bans use of CCTV cameras at the polling stations. The existing election code allows use of CCTV cameras at polling stations with a purpose to prevent violations and to verify complaints on alleged violations.
The draft leaves Venice Commission’s recommendations related to use of administrative resources and disparity between the 73 majoritarian, single-mandate constituencies unaddressed. This latter issue has long been one of the key recommendations by the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal affairs
“It [the draft of election code] is conducive to the conduct of democratic elections. Nevertheless, several issues are of concern, the most important one being the notable inequality in the size of electoral districts (from some 6.000 to some 160.000 voters),” the Venice Commission said.
It said that wide variance in number of voters in various constituencies “undermines the principle of equality of suffrage.”