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GD Initiates Constitutional Changes for Post-2016 Elections as Opposition Campaigns for Rival Bill
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 8 Sep.'15 / 18:43

The Georgian Dream ruling coalition has initiated constitutional changes to scrap the majoritarian component of the electoral system for the elections that will be held after the 2016 parliamentary polls.

Meanwhile, a group of parliamentary and non-parliamentary opposition parties are launching a campaign to collect the signatures of 200,000 citizens required for initiating a rival bill for constitutional changes to scrap the majoritarian part of the electoral system before the 2016 parliamentary elections.

But none of the two initiatives are likely to be passed as no constitutional amendment can be adopted by the sitting parliament without support of both parliamentary majority and minority groups.

The GD ruling coalition has 86 seats in 150-member parliament, 27 short of the three-fourths super-majority required to pass a constitutional amendment.

Georgia currently has a mixed system in which 73 lawmakers are elected in 73 majoritarian, single-mandate constituencies through plurality vote, and rest 77 seats are allocated proportionally under the party-list contest among political parties, which clear 5% threshold.

According to the GD-proposed bill of constitutional amendment, majoritarian component of the system should be scrapped 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. The parliament, according to the proposal, should be entirely elected through proportional system in multiple-member voting districts. The bill also envisages lowing electoral threshold from 5 to 4%.   

Explaining its proposal to delay scrapping of majoritarian system for post-2016 elections, the GD ruling coalition says in its proposal: “Coalition’s decision is based on a belief that while Georgian Dream is in power, the Georgian political system will achieve in coming years the level of development, which is necessary for prevention of difficulties associated with introduction of fully proportional electoral system (relatively weak connection between voters and MPs, risk of failure to form a firm parliamentary majority etc.).”

In a separate proposal, which has yet to be formally initiated as draft amendments to the electoral code and which does not requires constitutional changes, the GD ruling coalition offers to keep the majoritarian system for the 2016 elections, but to replace plurality vote to elect majoritarian MPs with majority vote. That 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 – that would put the system in line with the constitutional court’s May 28 ruling, which said that current division of single-mandate, majoritarian constituencies, which 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 – undermines equality of vote.
 
About dozen of non-parliamentary opposition parties (Alliance of Patriots of Georgia is not among them), as well as UNM and Free Democrats parliamentary opposition say that GD-proposed changes fail to secure “fair electoral system” ahead of 2016 parliamentary elections. Some civil society and election watchdog groups are also calling for scrapping of the majoritarian system for the 2016 elections.

“As our deaf government fails to hear our voice, we want to make people’s voice heard, which together with us is calling for change of the electoral system,” said Mamuka Katsitadze of the New Rights party after a meeting of non-parliamentary and parliamentary opposition parties on September 8 during which they decided to launch a campaign for collection of signatures of 200,000 citizens.

When some of those parties, which are now in the ruling coalition, specifically the Republican Party, Conservative Party and National Forum, were in the opposition, they were demanding the very same reform of electoral system, which is now pushed for by the current opposition. When UNM, which is now in favor of scrapping the majoritarian part of the electoral system, was strongly against of such reform when it was in power.

Opponents of the existing mixed electoral 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.

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