President Giorgi Margvelashvili has signed a bill on redistricting of single-mandate constituencies into law, but said it was falling far short of much-needed broader electoral system reform.
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.
Opposition parties, both the parliamentary and non-parliamentary, as well as many civil society organizations and election monitoring groups have been calling for the majoritarian component of the electoral system to be scrapped by 2016 elections, requiring constitutional amendment. The President also backs this proposal. Georgian Dream ruling coalition, however, agrees to carry out this reform by 2020 elections.
Redrawing of electoral boundaries was proposed by the ruling GD coalition in an attempt to on the one hand maintain existing majoritarian component of the electoral system for 2016 parliamentary elections and on the other to address the long-standing issue of huge disparity in size of single-mandate constituencies.
The Georgian Constitutional Court ruled in May, 2015 that electoral districting, which had existed for many years, was undermining equality of vote because of large discrepancy in size of single-mandate constituencies – ranging from over 150,000 voters in the largest one to less than 6,000 voters in the smallest one.
The bill, approved by the Parliament in December, has significantly narrowed discrepancy between the size of constituencies through merging of small districts and splitting of large ones.
“These amendments do not in any way represent an electoral reform which we’ve been talking about for years already. These amendments are stemming from the requirements set by the Constitutional Court,” President Margvelashvili said on January 8 while announcing about signing of the bill into law.
“Therefore, these are absolutely technical amendments and in fact we don’t have electoral reform – the reform which would have provided full consent and consensus of political players on the rules of the game,” President Margvelashvili said.
“An important process took place in this regard in 2015. Actually the entire political spectrum, both opposition parties and the ruling coalition agreed on what is better for the Georgian electoral system; the answer is clear – the best option is to switch to a proportional system,” Margvelashvili said.
“The only difference is about the timeframe for implementing this reform,” the President said.
“The entire political spectrum, non-governmental organizations, our international partners, moreover, a petition certified by over 240,000 signatures of the Georgian citizens, support to implement it in 2016. The ruling [GD] coalition thinks differently and intends to implement this reform by 2020,” he said.
The President was referring to the petition, which was made possible as a result of the opposition parties’ campaigning and based on which a draft of constitutional amendment was initiated, envisaging scrapping of the majoritarian component of the electoral system for 2016 elections. A separate constitutional amendment was proposed by the GD ruling coalition, which envisages the same reform for the post-2016 elections, which should be held in 2020. Support of at least 113 MPs is required for a constitutional amendment to be endorsed, meaning that neither opposition nor the ruling coalition will be able to pass their proposed drafts without each other’s support.
“I think that it is not quite clear, why we should delay for four years doing of something that we all agree is good and acceptable. I call on all political forces to come to an agreement on this issue through more intensive consultations,” President Margvelashvili said.
Asked why he did not veto the bill if he thinks that it fails to reform electoral system, the President responded: “Because this bill meets requirements set by the Constitutional Court by introducing technical amendments to the existing electoral code.”
“This is correctly drafted bill in frames of requirements put forth by the Constitutional Court. This is not a bill about electoral reform,” he added.
In late December, the President also signed into law a bill, proposed by the GD ruling coalition, which replaces plurality vote for electing majoritarian MPs in single-mandate constituencies with majority vote.
Under the previous rule a majoritarian MP candidate with more votes than others, but not less than 30%, was declared an outright winner of the race. According to the new rule, threshold required for an outright victory in the first round has increased from 30% to 50%. A second round runoff should be held if none of the candidate garners more than 50% of votes.