Several election watchdog and legal advocacy groups have called on the Parliament not to hurry with adoption of a draft amendment to the election code, envisaging holding of by-elections to fill vacant majoritarian seats in several local city councils (Sakrebulo), including in Tbilisi, in June.
International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) and Transparency International Georgia said in a joint statement on April 8 that the proposal was lacking justification and was being made without taking into consideration views of main stakeholders.
The Parliament passed the amendment to the election code with 82 votes to 19 with its first reading on April 3.
In case of enforcement of the amendment, by-elections will be held in June in several constituencies of six municipalities; these are: Oni, where Sakrebulo now has five vacant majoritarian seats; Mestia, where local council has four vacant seats; Tbilisi, Khobi and Tsalka, whose Sakrebulos now have three vacant majoritarian seats each.
Lawmakers from the UNM parliamentary minority group, who are against of the proposal, say that the amendment is part of Georgian Dream’s efforts to gain control over Tbilisi Sakrebulo, where UNM still holds a narrow majority.
In their joint statement ISFED, GYLA and TI Georgia said that sponsors of the bill have not provided proper justification that would justify financial expenses related to holding of by-elections in June, just one year before the local elections are scheduled, when new Sakrebulos will be elected, and in the view that there are in addition MP by-elections on April 27 in three constituencies and presidential elections in October.
It says that discussion of the amendment in the Parliament was carried out hastily without engaging with stakeholders and through “bypassing” a working group, which has been established with the participation of political parties and other stakeholders to elaborate broader election system reform plan.
The groups have also called on the Parliament to engage actively with the Central Election Commission as well while taking decisions related to the election code.
Chairman of Central Election Commission, Zurab Kharatishvili, warned lawmakers on April 3 that approval of the proposed amendments without proper deliberation of other provisions of existing election code might lead to complication of CEC’s work. He said that new regulations, combined with already introduced amendments envisaging holding MP by-elections in April in addition to October, might potentially create collisions in respect of some procedural deadlines and composition of district election commissions.
“We call on the Georgian Parliament to give the society opportunity to hold broad public discussions over amendments to the election code and not to allow hasty adoption of these amendments,” ISFED, GYLA and TI Georgia said in the statement.