President Giorgi Margvelashvili plans to organize a conference with participation of political parties and other stakeholders to discuss electoral system reform with particular focus on change of majoritarian part of the system.
The announcement was made by the president’s office after Margvelashvili met with representatives of non-parliamentary opposition and civil society representatives on April 28.
Several non-parliamentary opposition parties, among them New Rights and Nino Burjanadze’s Democratic Movement–United Georgia, have been campaigning jointly for months, demanding reform of the majoritarian component of the election system.
Margvelashvili addressed the issue in his annual state of the nation speech in the Parliament last month saying that existing majoritarian component of electoral system should be “changed”.
His stance on the issue was further specified by his office in a press release on April 28, which reads that the President “shares the position about replacing majoritarian system with the proportional one”, meaning that Margvelashvili is for the parliament to be elected completely based on party-list, proportional system.
Speaking at the meeting with representatives of political parties and civil society, President Margvelashvili, who under the constitution has less power than the PM, said that a new system should secure creating of “pluralistic political environment.”
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. OSCE-led international election monitoring missions have been repeatedly raising this issue in their election monitoring reports noting that such huge discrepancy in size of single-mandate constituencies undermines equality of vote.
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), where a similar system is applied, 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.
Scrapping of the majoritarian system will require a constitutional change, which needs support of at least 113 MPs. If decision is made to keep the system, but to reform it by addressing existing disparity between single-mandate constituencies, it may require amending of only election code without introducing changes in the constitution.
The group of non-parliamentary opposition parties, which has been campaigning for the reform, secured backing of parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili, who last month joined a memorandum calling for the reform. Usupashvili, who is one of the leaders of the Georgian Dream ruling coalition, did so in his individual capacity not expressing the position of the entire ruling coalition. Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia, the largest party in the coalition, founded by ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, remains noncommittal about its position on the issue.