Because of a failure to address wide disparity between single-mandate, majoritarian constituencies resulting in unequal weight of each vote, Georgia’s “new election system is not fully in line with European standards,” two co-rapporteurs from Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said in their report to the PACE’s monitoring committee.
The information note, which has been drawn up mainly based on co-rapporteurs’ fact-finding visit to Georgia in October, was released on January 26 and focuses on administration of justice and election-related issues.
Kastriot Islami and Michael Jensen, co-rapporteurs on honouring obligations by Georgia, welcome in the report the Georgian authorities’ decision to adopt new election code, as well as addressing in the new code a number of recommendations made by the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal affairs Venice Commission.
The report, however, notes it was “regrettable that no consensus could be reached on the new election code and especially on the election system by which the new parliament is to be elected.”
The Venice Commission, has long been recommending Georgia to secure equality of vote through establishing approximately equal sized single-mandate, majoritarian constituencies. The commission said wide disparity between the constituencies - ranging from about 6,000 voters in the smallest constituency to over 150,000 voters in the largest one – “undermines the principle of equality of suffrage.”
The new election code, which went into effect this month, mainly leaves the system unchanged. In the next Parliament 73 seats will go to majoritarian MPs elected in 73 single-mandate constituencies and rest 77 seats will be allocated proportionally under the party-list contest among political parties and election blocs, which will clear 5% threshold.
“The election system that has now been adopted upon the proposal of the United National Movement does not address this shortcoming [of unequal majoritarian constituencies] satisfactorily,” the report reads. “This means that the new election system is not fully in line with European standards. The argument of the authorities that the current district boundaries are needed to ensure that regional minorities are represented in parliament does not hold sway in our opinion. Far better mechanisms exist to ensure minority representation in a parliament that are in line with European democratic standards. We urge the authorities to promptly address this issue.”
Co-rapporteurs said other election systems, such as a regional proportional system, that was recommended by the Assembly on a number of occasions, "would create a more competitive election environment in the current circumstances.”
It also says that aside from this issue of unequal size of the single-mandate constituencies, the election system “is adequate for the conduct of democratic elections.”
Administration of Justice
In respect of administration of justice, the report notes that “the progress made in the reform of the judiciary by the current authorities is undeniable, but shortcomings nevertheless remain.”
“Problems in the administration of justice are reportedly mostly noted with regard to criminal and administrative justice where the state might have a vested interest. No problems were reported with regard to the administration of civil justice,” it says, adding that the authorities “seem reluctant to investigate possible wrongdoings by law enforcement and state officials.”
Underscoring concerns about “the lack of credible and effective investigations in politically sensitive cases”, the report brings an example of a high-profile murder case of Sandro Girgvliani and a ruling delivered into the case by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.
“During the discussions, the authorities stressed the sensitive nature of this case, also as a result of its politicisation by the opposition. The authorities are currently in discussion with the relevant departments in the Council of Europe with regard to the execution of the judgment of the Court. The authorities also stressed that they would fully co-operate with the Council of Europe and implement any measures ordered,” the report says.
Co-rapporteurs said that in their meetings with the Georgian officials, they had emphasized that any country or administration can make mistakes, but that “the willingness to investigate credibly and address any alleged mistakes and shortcomings demonstrates the real extent of democratic consolidation of a country.”
“Addressing the reported shortcomings, in our view, is also in the best interest of the Georgian authorities themselves: they have come a very long way with regard to justice reform and are in many respects an example for the region and beyond. It would be regrettable should the reluctance to address the problems in the administration of justice undermine the success of the major reforms that have been implemented in this field by the Georgian authorities,” PACE co-rapporteurs on Georgia said.