After the Constitutional Court’s landmark ruling late last month, reform of Georgia’s long-standing and much criticized electoral system, specifically its majoritarian component, looks inevitable, but debates now focus on how far the reform should go.
The Court ruled on May 28 that existing majoritarian system undermines equality of suffrage because of the large discrepancy in size of single-mandate, majoritarian constituencies. The size of these districts vary from each other by the number of voters – ranging from over 150,000 voters in the largest one to less than 6,000 voters in the smallest one.
73 lawmakers in 150-seat Parliament are elected in 73 majoritarian, single-mandate constituencies under the plurality voting system and the remaining 77 seats are allocated by a party-list proportional vote system, in which parties need to pass the 5% vote threshold to enter Parliament.
Putting the system in line with the Constitutional Court’s decision can be achieved through keeping the majoritarian system, but re-drawing borders of the election districts by making their size more or less equal to each other.
But the authorities are facing mounting pressure from the opposition and the civil society groups to go beyond just re-drawing borders and to carry out a more fundamental reform by replacing the majoritarian system with a regional-proportional model, introducing multi-mandate constituencies.
At a conference hosted by President Giorgi Margvelashvili on May 30, 14 opposition parties, including non-parliamentary and parliamentary ones, and 8 civil society organizations made a joint appeal to the Parliament to carry out this reform.
They argue that the existing majoritarian system, where MPs are elected through plurality vote, results in a large amount of wasted votes and can potentially produce a distribution of seats in the parliament that is different from the distribution reflected in proportional, party-list election results.
Scrapping of the existing majoritarian system will require constitutional changes, which involve a lengthy and complicated process.
Keeping the system, but modifying it according to the Constitutional Court’s decision will only need a change of the electoral code.
Views on how the system should be changed are differing within the ruling five-party Georgian Dream coalition itself.
The Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG), the largest party within the coalition led by PM Irakli Garibashvili, has yet to voice its position. But some of its members, especially those who are majoritarian MPs, have already voiced their negative stance towards the proposal to scrap the majoritarian system.
The Republican Party, unlike some others within the GD coalition, is unambiguous about its stance, clearly outlining that they are in favor of replacing the majoritarian system with a regional-proportional one.
“We think that the optimal option, if not now at least later, would be a regional-proportional system,” MP Davit Berdzenishvili, who leads GD-Republicans faction in the parliament, said at a news conference on June 2.
But he also said that the final decision depends on the position of other partners within the coalition. He also added that GDDG party is expected to voice its final position on the issue by the end of this week.
Chairman of a six-member Georgian Dream Conservatives faction, MP Giga Bukia declined to discuss his party’s stance on the issue, citing that no final decision is yet been made within the coalition as a whole.
“We, the Conservatives, have our own position, but since we act within the coalition, we express only our joint [coalition’s] position,” MP Bukia told Civil.ge on June 2.
GD-National Forum parliamentary faction as well has yet to decide what its position will be on the issue.
“Although I myself am a majoritarian MP [from the Gori constituency], my personal opinion is that this system failed to justify itself and it would not be bad if it is replaced by regional-proportional system,” MP Malkhaz Vakhtangashvili, chairman of GD-National Forum parliamentary faction, told Civil.ge on June 2.
He, however, added: “But, I repeat that this is my personal opinion and the faction’s final position will be known in the near future.”
Industrialist Party, also part of the GD ruling coalition, seems to be in favor of keeping the majoritarian system with some changes. The leader of the party, MP Gogi Topadze, told Civil.ge on June 2 that he supports the model, where each constituency or a region has its individual representative in the Parliament.
If the final decision is made in favor of keeping the majoritarian system, modified or not, Republican, National Forum and Conservative parties, as well as some lawmakers from the GDDG party, will be hardly at ease with justifying support for maintaining the system they vocally opposed for years when they were in the opposition.
MP Davit Saganelidze, who is a member of GDDG party and leads the GD parliamentary majority group, was among those opposition lawmakers back in 2008 who went on hunger strike, demanding, among other issues, electoral reform, including the scrapping of the majoritarian model, from then ruling UNM party.
“I cannot speak now in my personal capacity as I lead the parliamentary majority group. The system will be changed, but details of model have to be discussed,” MP Saganelidze said on June 2, when asked about his opinion on the issue.
MP Giorgi Kakhiani, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Procedural Issues and a member of GDDG party, says that the proposal to scrap majoritarian component has “more opponents than supporters” within the parliamentary majority and therefore “it will be impossible to make amendments to the constitution.”
Deputy chairperson of the GDDG parliamentary faction, MP Eliso Chapidze said scrapping of the majoritarian system will be “difficult”.
“It requires constitutional amendments and support of at least 113 MPs – that cannot be done because many majoritarian MPs are against it,” she told Civil.ge on June 2.
Two factions consisting of lawmakers elected through the majoritarian system, all of whom previously were members of UNM, but then switched sides in favor of the GD parliamentary majority group, are the most vocal opponents of the removal of the majoritarian system.
These factions are Non-Partisan Independent Majoritarians and Independent Majoritarians – there are six members in each of these factions.
“We have a very clear-cut position – we are against the scrapping majoritarian system, and probably it will not change,” MP Guram Misabishvili, chairman of Non-Partisan Independent Majoritarians told Civil.ge on June 2.
The similar position has been voiced for multiple times recently by chairman of the Independent Majoritarians faction, MP Kakha Okriashvili.
MP Zakaria Kutsnashvili of GDDG, himself a majoritarian MP, is also strongly against the complete overhaul of the electoral system. He, however, proposed to replace the current plurality vote through which majoritarian MPs are elected with majority vote in order to minimize wasted votes.
UNM’s 46-member parliamentary minority group is made up of three factions. Two of them consist of six majoritarian MPs each.
Majoritarian MP Zurab Chilingarashvili of UNM told Civil.ge on June 2 that his faction supports scrapping the majoritarian system.
Chairman of UNM-Majoritarians faction, MP Akaki Bobokhidze, voiced somewhat lukewarm support towards the proposal.
“No matter what my personal stance on this issue is, I am ready to support a position over which there will be a political consensus in order to prevent the government from using different positions among the opposition parties for its own benefit… Let’s wait what the proposal by the authorities will be,” MP Bobokhidze told Civil.ge on June 2.