The electoral system reform that was proposed by the Georgian Dream ruling coalition addresses existing problems “only partially”, said election watchdog groups and called on the authorities to carry out comprehensive reform without delay before the next parliamentary elections in 2016.
“Proposed changes address problems of the existing electoral system only partially and fail to comprehensively secure competitive and equal electoral environment,” International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), and Transparency International Georgia said in a joint statement on June 8. The three organizations are regularly monitoring elections and related developments.
The GD coalition laid out its reform proposal late last week. It envisages maintaining the mixed electoral model for the 2016 parliamentary elections, wherein 73 lawmakers are elected in 73 majoritarian, single-mandate constituencies and the remaining 77 seats are allocated by a party-list, proportional vote. The proposal offers to replace plurality vote to elect majoritarian MPs with majority vote, which entails increasing the vote threshold required for an outright victory in the first round from the current 30% to 50%. The plan also includes redrawing single-mandate districts to provide equality of suffrage and introducing a constitutional amendment to scrap the majoritarian component of the system by the time of elections, which will be held after the 2016 parliamentary polls – that is by 2020, in case there are no early elections.
While the GD’s electoral system reform proposals address Constitutional Court’s ruling issued late last month that says that the existing division of electoral districts undermines equality of suffrage because of the large disparity of the number of voters, the plan falls short of demands voiced in a joint appeal by 14 opposition parties and 8 civil society organizations. At a conference hosted by President Giorgi Margvelashvili on May 30, opposition parties and civil society organizations called for an immediate scrapping of the majoritarian component of the electoral system.
“It will be difficult to lower disparity among the majoritarian constituencies and many of the districts will face mechanical division/merger, which may cause additional problems in terms of proportional territorial representation. At the same time, as 2014 local elections showed, increasing threshold to 50% is not enough for improvement of the electoral process – a comprehensive approach is required,” the three election watchdog groups said.
“The argument of the authorities that substantial reform of electoral system is not desirable now because little time is left before the next elections is completely implausible. About a year and a half is left before the next parliamentary elections, therefore it is absolutely possible to secure constitutional changes timely and to hold the 2016 parliamentary elections only through proportional system,” reads the statement.
Similar views and criticism of the government-proposed plan were voiced by the non-parliamentary and parliamentary opposition parties.
This position was also echoed by President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s parliamentary secretary Giorgi Kverenchkhiladze.
“It is not clear why the introduction of a fair electoral system should be delayed for five and half years, when this issue is not something new neither for political spectrum nor for the civil society,” Kverenchkhiladze told journalists on June 8, highlighting the fact that even some parties in the GD ruling coalition were in favor of scrapping the majoritarian system when they were in the opposition. “Finalization of relevant constitutional changes by early spring  will be possible, if there is a political will and effort.”