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Opposition protest new parliamentary election system

By Winston Featherly
Friday, March 7

The government introduced an overhaul to the parliamentary electoral system on March 4, sparking outrage from opposition politicians who say they were not consulted on the new system, which they brand as unfair.

Half of the seats in the next parliament will be ‘majoritarian,’ rather than the planned one-third, and a compromise system backed by the opposition is scrapped altogether. Furious opposition MPs accuse the government of ambushing them with a new electoral system.

“Nobody was aware that a new election system was proposed,” oppositional Conservative MP Kakha Kukava said.

Under the new system, which must pass two more hearings in parliament before being enacted into law, 75 MPs will be elected through a country-wide party list, and 75 party-nominated MPs will be elected from individual districts, one MP per district.

Ruling party representatives say the new system is fair.

“One district, one MP,” said prominent majority MP Giga Bokeria. “For each district to have one MP is perfectly democratic.”

But the opposition say the new system stacks the odds in the ruling party’s favor.

Because of how districts are drawn, Kukava said, rural Georgia—where the ruling party is strongest—will have a number of MPs disproportionately high to its population. Densely populated urban areas, where the opposition performed best in the January presidential election, will have fewer MPs.

The plan was proposed “without any consultation with opposition,” Kukava said.

The 2008 parliament was once supposed to be made up of 150 MPs, with 100 elected proportionally through party lists and 50 elected in the majoritarian, or first-past-the-post, system. The opposition backed changes to replace those 50 majoritarian MPs with candidates selected in a regional proportional system, with voters choosing from regional party lists alongside the country-wide party lists.

The opposition accuse the government of reneging on a promise, written in a February memorandum, to introduce the regional proportional system.

“In case of reaching a consensus between the political forces, the majoritarian election system will be replaced by a regional proportional system as recommended by OSCE experts,” the government memorandum stated.

Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze later denied the line was meant as an ironclad agreement, but Kukava says the turnaround belies the authorities’ credibility.

“How can we trust their promise about fair and free [parliamentary] elections when they broke, after two weeks, on of the promises in their memorandum?” he asked.

“[It’s] hard to get a real understanding of their argument,” Bokeria retorts, saying the opposition is “lost in their own points.”

Bokeria points out that the opposition missed a chance to support their favored regional proportional system when it came up for a vote in parliament on February 19.

In that session, parliament was considering a package of constitutional amendments, including one which would enact the regional proportional system. But the opposition was in the middle of a parliamentary boycott; without the opposition, ruling party representatives say, the government fell three votes short of the supermajority needed to pass constitutional amendments.

Opposition MPs accused the government of intentionally scuttling the amendments.

Bokeria says the opposition outcry is a lost cause.

“Better to focus on the elections, and present their views and policies to the voters like the [ruling party] will do,” he said.