Parliamentary Chairman, Davit Usupashvili, has joined a memorandum initiated by a group of non-parliamentary opposition parties calling for reform of the majoritarian part of the electoral system.
Usupashvili said on March 17 that he has joined the campaign in his individual capacity, meaning that although being one of the leaders of the Georgian Dream (GD) ruling coalition, in this case his move does not mean that GD is also joining the memorandum.
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 reform of the majoritarian component of the election system.
While in their comments some of the non-parliamentary opposition politicians are demanding scrapping of this component, text of the memorandum itself is not as precise and calls for “change” of majoritarian system, which does not necessarily imply scrapping of this component entirely. The memorandum says that the reform is needed by 2016 parliamentary elections as the existing system undermines the principle of equality of suffrage and fails to proportionally allocate seats in the legislative body.
Georgia has a mixed system in which 73 lawmakers in 150-seat Parliament are elected in 73 majoritarian, single-mandate constituencies, and remaining 77 seats are allocated proportionally under the party-list contest among political parties, which clear 5% threshold.
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.
Opponents of the existing system argue that it can potentially produce distribution of seats in Parliament different from those reflected in proportional, party-list election results.
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.
UNM opposition party, which was strongly against of changing existing majoritarian system when it was in power, is now in favor of reform. Another parliamentary opposition party, Free Democrats, has also joined the memorandum.
After joining the memorandum, parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili told journalists: “I am sure we will make such amendments… which will make the electoral system more democratic and bring it closer to the European standards.”
The memorandum calls on the authorities to establish a negotiating format with the involvement of political parties and civil society representatives with the purpose of elaborating specific legislative amendments by May 1, 2015.
Scrapping of the majoritarian system 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, it will require amending of only election code.