TBILISI, DFWatch – Barely half of parliament attended when a crucial proposal to rearrange how they themselves are elected was being discussed yesterday.

The constitutional amendment in question will both increase the number of parliamentarians from 150 to 190 and change how they are elected, and is therefore one of the key changes to Georgia’s election system as the country enters two consecutive election years.

While controversial to some, the government had two opposition factions onboard last summer which signed an agreement stipulating that from now on, 83 members of parliament will be chosen through a system of single candidate districts, on a principle of first past the post, while the rest 107 will be chosen on the basis of a system of proportionality.

Part of the plan also foresees splitting up single-candidate districts that have more than 100 000 voters. Accordingly, there will be 10 new single-mandate districts in various parts of the country.

One of the objections to the plan is that when the current number of representatives was lowered to 150 back in 2003, a decision which came into force in 2005, it came as a result of a referendum, and according to law, something decided by a referendum may only be changed by holding a new referendum.

But the government insists that the decision in 2003 was not the result of a referendum, and gets support by the opposition factions which signed up to the agreement. But their argument is not shared by neither experts nor a large part of the opposition. Moreover, stenographic records exist which show both President Saakashvili and the ruling party representatives saying that it was the referendum results which was implemented.

But the process is moving forward despite objections, and the issue before parliamentarians yesterday was to figure out how to incorporate the changes into the constitution. Only 83 members, slightly more than half of parliament, were attending this crucial debate.

Next stage is to lay out the change in a draft which will be put to society for a one month long hearing process, organized by a special commission, according to standard rules for how to go about making constitutional amendments. This commission will be put together by parliament, and yesterday a resolution was passed to start this work.

Another important rule is who may make constitutional amendments and how. Both parliamentarians and ordinary citizens are allowed to suggest changes to the country’ foundation law. Such a proposal can be made by a bloc of parliamentarians if they number more than half of parliament who must then sign on to the proposal. If citizens want to suggest changes, they have to gather at least 200 signatures. Such proposals will be handed in to parliament’s procedural committee, which will then review them and check the signatures to see if they are genuine. The president may also suggest constitutional changes directly.

In the last half of the day yesterday’s bureau session David Todradze, deputy chairman of the procedural committee stated that the committee had already verified the reliability of the signatures of this constitutional change lawmakers are now discussing, and the conclusion is that they are ready to set up the appropriate commission which will then facilitate a public hearing process. At the end of the day, this commission was approved. It will be headed by Pavle Kublashvili, chairman of parliament’ judicial committee.

Free Democrat representative Giorgi Tsagareishvili, chairman of the parliamentary fraction Unity for Justice, thinks the government’ hurry is related to a parallel process to change the Election Code.

The Council of Europe Venice Commission will publish its conclusion regarding the latter on December 16 or 17, 2011, and then parliament will begin reviewing it. According to Tsagareishvili, parliament first has to finish work on the Election Code before it can move on to the constitutional change about how parliament is put together.