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Parliament confirms new electoral system over opposition protests

By Eter Tsotniashvili
Thursday, March 13
Despite opposition protests parliament approved a set of controversial constitutional changes to the electoral system yesterday, by a comfortable margin over the two-thirds majority vote needed.

Under the new system half of the 150 parliamentary seats will be ‘majoritarian’—with one MP elected per district in a first-past-the-post-system—up from the previously planned one-third. The other 75 MPs will be elected proportionally through a country-wide party list.

The opposition protest the change, claiming it will unfairly hand the government a majority in the next parliamentary elections, slated for late May.

“This is an attempt by the authorities to [maintain a majority] illegally, which will cause a civil confrontation in the country,” opposition coalition leader and MP Levan Gachechiladze told his colleagues in parliament on March 11.

The moderate New Rights, entering their fourth day of a hunger strike staged outside the parliamentary speaker’s office, called the decision to change the election system “cynical” in the face of opposition protests at parliament.

Party leader Davit Gamkrelidze said his faction would be ready to accept the system previously meant to be used for the 2008 elections, in which the highest vote-winner in each district would take each of the district’s multiple seats.

“[The old] system is bad, but the new one is worse,” Gamkrelidze said.

The opposition have also upped their criticism of Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze, the top name on the ruling National Movement’s party list for the election and previously praised by all sides as a mediator during political crises.

MP Giga Bukia of the opposition Democratic Front faction said that the Burjanadze has destroyed her credibility as a constructive player by supporting the new electoral system.

“All your promises turned out to be false,” he said yesterday. “You are voting for a big mess, and you will be responsible for the events that happen.”

Burjanadze hit back, saying she has promoted a dialogue.

“I was very constructive and have always supported a dialogue between the two sides. But being constructive does not mean that we will behave as the opposition wants. The more you insult me the more inflexible I will be,” Burjanadze said.

On March 11 President Mikheil Saakashvili also defended the amendments.

“I think everyone should understand that this [majoritarian] system is quite legal. If any of the party thinks that as a result of this new system they will appear in bad conditions or, on the contrary, in better condition, I can say that it is not enough reason to appeal to people for overthrowing the government,” Saakashvili said.

However, around 40 opposition members and supporters continued their hunger strike outside parliament yesterday.

Giorgi Khurua and Giorgi Mestumrishvili of the opposition Freedom Party said they will continue the hunger strike while they have enough energy, although Khurua said they may stop drinking water too in the next few days.

“There was a dialogue with the authorities and we thought they would meet our demands but it seems they don’t hear us. That’s why we’ve taken the most radical step and started a hunger strike,” Khurua told the Messneger, adding that their main goal is to “make the country more democratic.”

Another young hunger striker, Giorgi Mestumrishvili, who claims he was a political prisoner for his participation in the November protests, said that while his family does not support him, he intends to continue the hunger strike.

“Today my friends are illegally arrested, tomorrow my relatives will be killed, the human rights violations that are happening here—I don’t want them,” Mestvirishvili said.

An emergency services spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that two hunger strikers have so far been taken for medical attention.