The Parliament of Georgia approved on June 30 with its third reading a package of amendments involving the election code and four related laws.
The Georgian Dream-initiated legislative amendments provide a new rule of composition of election administrations and specify various election procedures, including the issues related to the 2017 municipal elections.
According to the proposed legislative amendments, the number of political parties eligible to appoint representatives to the Central Election Commission (CEC) will be significantly narrowed: only those parties will be eligible to have representatives in election administration, which manage to clear the 5% threshold and set up a faction in the Parliament.
Moreover, political parties will no longer have equal representation in the Central Election Commission (one member from each party): instead, the parties will appoint their representatives proportionally to the votes garnered in the elections.
According to current legislation, CEC consists of 13 members including its chairperson. Five CEC members are appointed by the Parliament upon the nomination of the President and seven members are appointed by those political parties, who garnered 3% or more votes in the last parliamentary or municipal elections and obtained relevant funding from the state budget.
Opposition Parties, CSOs
The new rule of CEC composition sparked criticism among opposition parties and civil society organizations, who claim that the new rule will give undue advantage to the ruling Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia party, since considering the results of the last parliamentary elections, the ruling party will be able to appoint several members to CEC through the political party quota.
Speaking at a news briefing on June 20, Tinatin Bokuchava of the opposition United National Movement said: “The government knows that the upcoming elections will be very difficult and therefore, they try to usurp the election administration in order to manipulate election process and its results.”
Irakli Abesadze of the Movement for Liberty - European Georgia said on June 13 that “the Georgian Dream tries to tailor the election administration and the entire election process to its desires.”
Three civil society organizations – the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, the Georgian Young Lawyers Association and the Transparency International Georgia – released a joint opinion on June 26. Noting positive amendments, the three CSOs also focused on disputable norms, saying that the new rule of CEC composition “clearly aims at strengthening the ruling party’s positions in the election administration.”
In response to their criticism, the ruling party introduced changes to the initial version of the bill, which enabled the ruling party to appoint four out of seven members of CEC, and submitted them to the Parliament.
According to these changes, the number of CEC members will be reduced from 13 to 12 and party quotas will decrease from seven to six. In this situation, considering the results achieved in the last parliamentary elections, the Georgian Dream will appoint three representatives to CEC and the remaining three seats will be filled by the representatives of opposition political parties. Georgian Dream MP Davit Matikashvili said that this decision will enable the government and the opposition “to observe the parity.”
During the Parliament’s plenary session on June 28, when the legislative body discussed the bill with its second reading, UNM lawmakers put on vote their alternative initiative, according to which the parties with budgetary funding would retain the right to appoint their representatives to CEC; the initiative, however, was voted down.
The parties will also have six-member quotas in district and precinct commissions and the rule of their composition will be similar to the procedures of appointing party representatives to the Central Election Commission.
The new rule of composition of election commissions will enter into force after the 2017 municipal elections.
Besides the issue of appointment of party representatives to CEC, opposition parties and CSOs also criticized the amendments related to the election of CEC chairperson, increasing the authorities of election commission chairpersons, imposing a GEL 500 fine for obstructing election administration’s activities, introducing additional regulations for media coverage of election commission’s activities, as well as prolongation of the terms of releasing public information by election administration.
Current election code was adopted in 2011 and about 40 amendments were made to it over the past six years.