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Reformed Election Code Drafted

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, September 15
Election code issues can be some of the most heatedly debated between the opposition and the authorities. However, a new electoral code has now been drafted and will be unveiled in the next few days and submitted to parliament on September 19, according to senior lawmakers from the ruling party.

National Movement representatives still avoid stating aloud what changes the new draft foresees, explaining that the draft is not a final version. “On September 12, the draft was sent for expert analysis to the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal and constitutional affairs. Parliament will pass the new electoral code with final voting after the Venice Commission provides its final conclusions," MP Akaki Minashvili said.

Negotiations over electoral code reform were stunted by a large part of the opposition refusing to participate in the process. As a result only a handful of opposition parties were involved in discussions and only two of these were leading opposition parties – the Christian Democrats and New Right. A final agreement has not been reached on the draft even with these opposition groups. As a representative of the Christian Democrats, Levan Vepkhvadze, mentioned, "the initiatives which are currently drafted are not enough as there are different, interesting suggestions and recommendations from NGOs and from the Central Election Commission (CEC), which should be written in.”

In response the ruling MP Pavle Kublashvili said that “these are issues which would not be rechecked." Davit Bakradze, the speaker of parliament, agreed saying that "the door is closed and will not be opened again; a return to those issues which have been agreed on already will not be on the agenda.” However, the opposition has different plans as a CDM representative, Nika Laliashvili, told The Messenger, “strong debates are still possible on the draft before it is presented to parliament." He added that while working on the draft the authorities were constructive, as they had no other alternative due to the fact that “international organizations are very much interested in the issue; [the government's] constructiveness will really be put to the test, if they adopt the draft.”

Those opposition parties which refused to agree to negotiate with the government accuse those parties which agreed to the authorities’ proposals of acting only in the government's interests. However, they are willing to fight now to influence the process. As the press officer of the Free Democrats, Vako Avaliani, told The Messenger, “the Free Democrats are actively working on the issue and are raising the problem in all meetings with foreign officials. We have already prepared our statements for the Venice Commission concerning the draft.”

The legal formulations which were agreed during the negotiations on the new code need serious elaboration and in any case would not guarantee a healthy election environment, a representative of the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), Lela Taliuri, told The Messenger. According to Taliuri, the draft version which was delivered to GYLA had serious deficiencies concerning issues such as the creation of a special committee for election list monitoring and accuracy, an interagency coordinating committee and the rules of its operation, and media monitoring, among other things. “We do not even have information about which version of the project has been delivered to the Venice Commission, the one which was given to us, or some new one," Taliuri said. She stated that when the Venice Commission representatives arrive in Georgia with their recommendations and hold meetings with the interested sides, GYLA, with some other NGOs would raise the issues they consider essential for election environment improvement in Georgia.

One of the key elements of the electoral system reform deal reached between the ruling party and the several opposition parties who participated in the negotiations is to increase the number of seats in the parliament from the current 150 to 190 requiring constitutional amendment. Under this deal, which according to ruling party lawmakers is reflected in the draft of the new code, 107 MPs will be elected through a party-list proportional system, and 83 seats will be allocated to majoritarian MPs elected in single-mandate constituencies.