Georgian Dream ruling coalition has submitted to the Parliament legislative amendments that would redraw electoral boundaries in an attempt to address long-standing issue of huge disparity in number of voters between single-mandate constituencies.
The Georgian Constitutional Court ruled in May, 2015 that country’s existing electoral system, specifically its majoritarian component, undermines equality of vote because of large discrepancy in size of single-mandate districts – ranging from over 150,000 voters in the largest one to less than 6,000 voters in the smallest one.
Georgia has mixed electoral 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 opposition parties are pushing for scrapping of the majoritarian system for the parliamentary elections in autumn 2016, but the ruling GD coalition is against, proposing to scrap it for post-2016 elections.
Draft of amendment to the electoral code, submitted by GD to the Parliament on November 27, seeks to put the majoritarian component of the system in line with the Constitutional Court’s ruling.
The proposal, if approved, will narrow discrepancy through merging of some small constituencies and splitting of large ones.
No change will apply to only 13 out of total 73 constituencies – Sagarejo; Gurjaani, Akhmeta; Mtskheta; Khashuri; Akhalkalaki; Ninotsminda; Mestia; Sachkhere; Chiatura; Tskaltubo; Senaki, and Poti.
The remaining 60 constituencies will be redistricted.
The capital city of Tbilisi, where almost third of the country’s voters reside and which now consists of ten single-mandate constituencies, will be divided into 18 constituencies, lowering average number of voters in each from current 91,000 to roughly 51,000.
Rustavi, where over 104,000 voters were registered for 2014 local elections, will be divided into two single-mandate constituencies; as a result the city will elect two majoritarian MPs instead of one, according to the proposal.
Currently boundaries of single-mandate constituencies mostly coincide with those of administrative borders of municipalities. It will no longer be the case if the proposed bill is approved.
Some small neighboring municipalities, which currently represent separate single-mandate constituencies electing one majoritarian MP each, will be electorally merged, but administratively will still remain separate municipalities.
For instance Dusheti, Kazbegi and Tianeti will merge into a single one-seat district with total of roughly over 42,000 voters.
The similar merger will also apply to Signagi and Dedoplistskaro; Tsalka and Dmanisi; Ambrolauri and Oni; Tsageri and Lentekhi; Abasha and Martvili; Tsalenjikha and Chkhorotsku; Shuakhevi and Khulo.
Some other constituencies will face different kind of redistricting, involving incorporating part and not the entire neighboring municipality.
For instance Kutaisi, Georgia’s second-largest city, which after the reform will elect three instead of one majoritarian MP, will incorporate electorally several villages of Terjola municipality. Batumi will be divided into three single-mandate constituencies and they will also incorporate neighboring Khelvachauri municipality and some villages from the Kobuleti municipality.
Election observer organizations, including OSCE-led international election monitoring missions, have been repeatedly raising the issue of disparity among constituencies for many years in their election monitoring reports.
In its Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters, the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal affairs, the Venice Commission, recommends that the maximal deviation from the average size of a constituency should not exceed 10%, and “should certainly not exceed 15% except in special circumstances.”
In Georgia’s case an average size of constituency is roughly 49,500 voters, if counted based on number of voters, which was reported by the Central Election Commission for the 2012 parliamentary elections.
Under the proposed redistricting, most of the constituencies will fall within the margin of 10-15% deviation norm.
But there seems to be about 13 constituencies under the proposed redistricting where departure from this norm will be beyond 15%. For instance single-mandate constituency in Mestia, which will not be redrawn as a result of this proposal, has roughly 8,000 voters, which is far less than the average size.
Although GD is against of scrapping the majoritarian component of the electoral system for next year’s parliamentary polls, in June the ruling coalition laid out plans to reform it.
Apart of redistricting, the GD coalition offered to replace plurality vote for electing 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 GD coalition, however, has yet to submit a relevant legislative amendment to the Parliament. GD MP Vakhtang Khmaladze, who chairs parliamentary committee for legal affairs, said that the bill, increasing threshold to 50%, will be tabled separately from the proposed amendments on electoral redistricting.