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Agreement on the electoral system reached, contentious issues remain

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Thursday, March 19
As a result of the efforts of international partners, the Georgian Dream and the United Opposition have recently reached an agreement on the electoral system. The 2020 parliamentary elections will be held in a mixed system, but the number of majoritarian MPs has declined sharply.

The formula of consent is as follows: 120 are elected by proportional system and 30 are elected by majoritarian system. Parliament should reflect on the agreed change in the electoral system in the constitution, which needs several months and the support of 113 lawmakers.

Despite the agreement, the disputed problems still remain - that is the topic of political prisoners and the issue of majoritarian constituencies.

The debate over the electoral system has a long history. In the post-Soviet Georgia, a mixed electoral system was established from the outset. It was argued that in this case the pros and cons of majoritarian and proportional electoral systems would balance each other. However, it turned out that the majoritarian part of the electoral system was extremely favorable to the political force in power- in majoritarian constituencies, government candidates were easily defeated by opposition candidates. Therefore, the opposition has long been calling for a proportional electoral system. The opposition used to demand this from the ruling National Movement at the time as well, and today the National Movement itself, along with other opposition parties is demanding it.

Mikheil Saakashvili's National Movement did not give up majoritarian constituencies while in power. 2008 After the plebiscite, when the number of MPs was reduced to 150, the proportional and majoritarian MPs were split equally - 75/75, and then slightly changed - 77 proportional and 73 majoritarian.

This system was in place during the 2012 and 2016 parliamentary elections, with the system intended to hold the 2020 elections, despite opposition demands for a proportional system.

On the night of June 20, 2019, a large-scale protest by the Russian lawmaker Gavrilov appeared in the Georgian parliament. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the leader of the Georgian Dream coalition, said the 2020 parliamentary elections would be conducted by a proportional system to quell the protest.

But the unexpected thing happened - according to the official version, Ivanishvili's in his own party rebelled and the constitutional amendment to move to a proportional election was thwarted. The opposition has described the ruling ruling party as a ‘trick’ and a deception.

Opposition parties (32 political parties) united around the demand for a proportional system of elections (32 political entities) and it is noteworthy that they were able to maintain this unity. However, several months of clashes between the United Opposition and the authorities over the electoral system have begun. The opposition demanded a proportional electoral system, while the Georgian Dream claimed that there would be no changes to the constitution regarding the electoral system. At the same time, repression against opposition representatives intensified, and several individuals were either imprisoned or persecuted.

In this situation, nothing could have changed if not for the activity of Western partners. Due to their efforts, the meetings between the Georgian Dream and the United Opposition were resumed. At the same time, rain of letters from congressmen and parliamentarians from the US and the European Union has been addressed to the Georgian authorities. As a result, negotiations resumed and the Georgian Dream became tired and new offers emerged: 100 proportional and 50 majoritarians; 110/40 and lastly 120/30. It was in this ratio that the agreement was reached on March 8th. At the same time, a 1% electoral threshold and 40% barrier was established- a party needs more than 40% support to form a government.

After the March 8th agreement, the issue of political prisoners became controversial. Opposition officials said after the meeting that the agreement provides for the release of those whom they regard as political prisoners. Authorities say there are no political prisoners and nothing is said in the text of the agreement. Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze held a special briefing. The case involves several people arrested after June 20 (Tamliani, I. Okruashvili, G. Ugulava, G. Rurua). The case involves several people arrested after June 20 (Tamliani, I. Okruashvili, G. Ugulava, G. Rurua). Some experts do not advocate the release of these people by the authorities because it means recognising political prisoners, while others advise them to release them because they will not have a major impact on the electoral process and their imprisonment will further damage the image of the government.

The agreement reached on March 8th also concerns the size of majoritarian constituencies. Because of the reduction of majoritarian constituencies, to put it simply, one and a half of the existing constituencies must be formed. 15% deviation is allowed in the number of voters in the constituencies. The only exceptions are the regions with high mountains and ethnic minorities. The opposition fears that the Georgian Dream will seek to ‘neutralise’ the majoritarian constituencies where opposition candidates are traditionally strong. According to the ex-Speaker of Parliament Kobakhidze, majoritarian constituencies are expected to be distributed as follows: 7 majoritarian constituencies will be allocated in Tbilisi, 3 in Samegrelo, Guria - 1, Adjara - 3, Racha - Lechkhumi - Svaneti - 1, Imereti - 4, Kakheti - 3, Shida Kartli - 2, Kvemo Kartli - 3, Samtskhe - Javakheti - 2 and Mtskheta - Mtianeti - 1. The opposition did not consider sufficient the allocation of 7 majoritarian constituencies in Tbilisi and considered it necessary to create 9 constituencies according to the number of voters. The EU-mediated ambassador also reached an agreement here on March 11, and the number of Tbilisi's majoritarians has increased to 8, presumably at the expense of the reduction of majoritarian seats for Kakheti.

Majoritarian constituencies hold other challenges for the opposition. They need to be able to have a single candidate for the government, which will not be an easy task and may call into question the unity of the opposition. For example, leader of the Law and Justice party, Tako Charkviani, said he would not support the nomination of pro-Russian candidates, such as Nino Burjanadze's majoritarian candidate.

Some temptations for the opposition are linked to the 1% threshold. It is so low that some of the smaller parties may be thinking of running independently, which the government may support. Such a statement has already been made by the leader of Free Georgia Kakha Kukava. The newly created "Lelo" is going to make a separate speech.

If the agreement is reflected in the constitution (according to Mamuka Mdinaradze, ‘rebellious’ majoritarians support a new electoral model), the electoral system will be fairer, the elections will be more competitive and the chances of the opposition will increase, but the change in the electoral system will not change the composition of election commissions. The ‘administrative resources’ and finances that mobilize the advantage of the Georgian Dream, given the past election experience, are enormous.

An agreement on the electoral system does not mean that the tension around the elections will be reduced and the opposition is guaranteed a victory. The leaders of the Georgian Dream say they will win again in the upcoming parliamentary elections and will run the government alone.
(Translated by Mariam Mchedlidze)