President Giorgi Margvelashvili met on January 30 with the representatives of several non-parliamentary opposition parties, who are pushing for election system reform by scrapping its majoritarian component.
“The President will be involved in this process,” Davit Pataraia, head of the President’s administration, said after the meeting.
“We think that election legislation needs to be improved so that, on the one hand, to better secure pluralism in the parliament and on the other hand these amendments should be carried out within tight timeframes so that election stakeholders and especially election administrations have enough time to prepare for [parliamentary] elections [planned for 2016],” he said.
Several non-parliamentary opposition parties, among them New Rights and Nino Burjanadze’s Democratic Movement–United Georgia, have been campaigning jointly for several months, demanding to scrap majoritarian component of the election system.
Georgia has a mixed system in which 73 lawmakers in 150-seat Parliament are elected in 73 majoritarian, single-mandate constituencies, and rest 77 seats are allocated proportionally under the party-list contest among political parties, which clear 5% threshold.
Arguing that the majoritarian component of this system can potentially produce distribution of seats in Parliament different from those reflected in proportional, party-list election results, opponents of this system want the majoritarian part of the system to be reformed.
Difference between distribution of seats and votes received in party-list contest was obvious in the previous Parliament, when then ruling UNM party was holding over 79% of seats although receiving slightly over 59% of votes in 2008 parliamentary elections. That was because UNM at the time won all but four single-mandate, majoritarian constituencies across the country.
But it was not the case in 2012 elections, when overall seats won by Georgian Dream coalition and UNM, both in majoritarian and proportional contests, mainly matched share of votes they won in party-list contest.
Mismatch, however, was evident in the 2014 local elections for Tbilisi City Council (Sakrebulo), when although receiving 46% of votes in party-list contest, GD gained 74% of seats in Tbilisi Sakrebulo because of winning all but one single-mandate, majoritarian constituencies of the capital city.
The size of single-mandate, majoritarian constituencies vary from each other by number of voters – ranging from over 150,000 voters in the largest one to less than 6,000 voters in the smallest one.
Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal and constitutional affairs, Venice Commission, has long been recommending Georgia to address existing disparity as it undermines the principle of equality of suffrage.
Georgian election observer groups have also been calling for the reform by replacing the current system with “regional-proportional system”, based on open lists, wherein multi-mandate constituencies will be introduced instead of existing single-mandate ones.
Parliamentary opposition parties, including former partner of GD ruling coalition, Free Democrats, are also calling for the reform. UNM opposition party, which was strongly against of reforming majoritarian system when it was in power, is now in favor of introducing “regional-proportional system”.
Scrapping of the majoritarian system, as demanded by the non-parliamentary opposition, will require a constitutional change, which needs support of at least 113 MPs. But if decision is made to keep the system, but to reform it by addressing existing disparity between single-mandate constituencies, specifically through introduction of “regional-proportional system”, it will require amending of only election code.
Last month group of non-parliamentary opposition parties met parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili, who said at the time that ruling coalition should decide whether it is going to address the issue by February or March, otherwise there would be no enough time left to carry out the reform ahead of next year’s elections.
Non-parliamentary opposition parties complained that despite of their requested for a meeting with PM Irakli Garibashvili, chairman of the GD ruling coalition, they have been ignored by the government, which has yet to voice its position about electoral system.