Parliament adopted on March 7 with its final reading election-related package of bills ahead of the June 15 local elections when mayors of twelve cities, as well as heads (gamgebeli) and local councils (Sakrebulos) of all municipalities will be elected.
Among key changes introduced are: setting minimal threshold for electing mayors and gamgebelis in the first round of vote at 50%; lowering threshold for proportional, party-list contest in provinces from 5% to 4%; increasing number of party-list seats in most of Sakrebulos and new mechanisms for additional state funding for political parties.
Although introducing some important changes in terms of lowering threshold in party-list contest in provincial municipalities and increasing number of seats distributed through party-list rule in most of the Sakrebulos, in overall system of electing local councils remains largely the same. Like the Parliament, Sakrebulos are also elected through mixed system – part of local council members are elected in majoritarian, single-mandate constituencies through first-past-the-post, winner-take-all rule, and another part through party-list, proportional contest.
While independent candidates, nominated by “initiative groups”, can run for majoritarian seat in Sakrebulos, a candidate willing to run for either mayor or gamgebeli’s post should be nominated by a political party or an election bloc.
UNM parliamentary minority group presented its alternative draft allowing for independent candidates to run for mayor and gamgebeli’s posts, but the proposal was voted down by the GD parliamentary majority on March 7. UNM’s draft also envisaged allowing a candidate to run simultaneously for a mayor’s office and for Sakrebulo seat in party-list contest – something that is not allowed under the amendments confirmed by the Parliament on March 7.
In late July, 2013 the Parliament passed an amendment to the election code obligating the Justice Ministry’s state services development agency to secure compiling registry with voters’ biometric photos before the 2014 local elections – something that was not made possible; instead the newly passed amendments envisage digitalization of voters’ photos available in data base and scrutinizing the registry through facial recognition program to strike duplications, if there are any, off the registry. After the verification through this method, which the authorities say will secure that there are no duplicated voters in the list, the registry will be handed over to the election administration. According to the newly passed amendment, on the election day there will be voters’ list with photos of voters attached to it, which will allow precinct election commission officials to visually verify identity of a voter through comparing photos in his or her ID card with the one attached to the voters list. If in the process precinct election commission officials consider that there is a mismatch, the amendments envisage whole set of procedures, among them also sending information to the police for further verification.