TBILISI, DFWatch–Georgia’s ruling coalition agrees to some changes in the election system, but won’t scrap the so-called majoritarian system, a demand by NGOs and opposition parties.
By postponing the removal of the ‘majoritarian‘ system, the coalition heeded the advice of former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
The coalition’s spokespersons say that the 2016 election will be held with a mixed proportional-majoritarian system, as in the last election. The coalition plans to increase the minimum threshold for majoritarians to 50 percent and proposes to redraw the borders of majoritarian districts.
Davit Usupashvili, Speaker of Parliament, said after the coalition leaders’ meeting with Ivanishvili that there is no need to carry out radical changes before the upcoming parliamentary election. But other political parties disagree; they all think the system needs to be changed.
Under today’s law, parliament should consist of 77 members elected through the proportional system and 73 through the majoritarian, a first-past-the-post system with the added criteria that a candidate must receive at least 30% of votes to win.
Georgia’s election system has been criticized both domestically and abroad. Since the 1990s, international organizations have recommended amending it and removing the majoritarian system. The reason is that a first-past-the-post system doesn’t guarantee the principle of the weight of votes, as the number of voters differ between districts from where majoritarians are elected. For example, there are more than 100,000 voters in Kutaisi but only 1,500 voters in Kazbegi. The recommendation Georgia has received from abroad is to have an equal number of voters in each majoritarian district.
While the government believes it is important to keep the majoritarian system, the opposition and NGOs claim the government needs such a system because it is easier to manipulate.
When they were in opposition, the politicians now in government criticized the government for keeping the majoritarian system, which they then regarded as unfair. It didn’t contribute to the development of the legislative assembly and the development of the political parties in the country, they argued. They also accused Saakashvili of wanting this system in order to maintain power
Getting rid of the majoritarian election system was one of the election promises made by the Georgian Dream coalition in the 2012 election, but they did not follow through on their promise after coming to power.
And vice versa, the National Movement refused to scrap the majoritarian system while that party was power, but now its leaders demand changes, together with other parties and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
A few days ago, President Giorgi Margvelashvili joined the opposition and NGOs in supporting a reform of the electoral system. The former speaker of parliament signed a memorandum about abolishing the majoritarian system, but now he shares position of the GD coalition.
The president’s parliamentary secretary Giorgi Kverenchkhiladze told DFWatch that the president welcomes the coalition’s readiness to change the election system but it is unclear to him why the change must be postponed five years, as there is full support across the political spectrum for a reform right now.
Kverenchkhiladze referred to Margvelashvili’s annual state of the nation speech, in which he said that the majoritarian system has to be replaced by a more fair system.
“The president remains committed to his position,” he said.