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New Electoral Code: A Recipe for Turmoil?

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, September 21
On September 16, a new draft of the electoral code appeared on the Georgian parliament’s web page. It contains 140 pages. It has been drafted by the Parliamentary Juridical Committee and contains all the agreements reached by the ruling United National Movement and several opposition parties this summer. The new code will replace the acting one which has been in place since 2001. Since that time there have been 46 amendments made to it. A big proportion of the non-parliamentary opposition assesses the new draft code very critically and has demanded further amendments to it. The ruling authorities however have ignored this demand. They already sent the text to the Venice Commission to receive approval and endorsement from this international organization.

It was exactly that commission that, in 2010, recommended that the Georgian authorities adopt new amendments to the election code. Now the commission should give its opinion. The amendments must be adopted at least one year prior to next year's elections expected next autumn. Therefore the commission conclusions will have to be made in a timely fashion.

The parliament is thus in standby mode waiting for the Venice Commission decision. Of course the code will not be adopted before a conclusion is received and appropriate recommendations given. The new election code is better written, there are less discrepancies or ambiguities, it includes the initiative of increasing the number of MPs from 150 to 190, and it also includes a new condition whereby parties which overcome the qualifying barrier of 5% of the vote will receive a GEL 1 mln grant.

However, certain opposition parties think that the new draft elections code lacks many points which are essential for conducting fair and transparent elections. For instance, voters will not be marked with special liquid so they can be recognized and stopped from voting a second time. It will also not be obligatory to install video cameras at polling stations. Opposition representative MP Gia Tsagareishvili thinks that the new draft code is a farce which was created by the ruling power confidentially. In response the representatives of the ruling party state that a special editorial board will be created which will finalize the election code text and this will be done openly.

There are big debates concerning the number of MPs. Some opposition members suggest that since the number of 150 MPs was adopted by a referendum, the increase of MPs up to 190 should also be confirmed by a referendum as the Georgian constitution states. However, the government ignores this arguing that the referendum in 2003 was illegal, as a referendum must generally be held across the entire territory of the country, while in 2003 the referendum wasn’t held in Abkhazia and or South Ossetia. However, looking back to 2003 one is reminded of another significant fact at odds with what is happening now. When the Rose Revolution took place, its major cause was the fraudulent election of November 2003, but in that case the incoming revolutionaries accepted the majoritarian elected MPs as legal whereas they rejected the results of the elections of those elected by proportional system. Now however, it is precisely the proportional system that is being promoted and significant new numbers of proportional representation MPs being introduced.

Despite the controversy, the code is unlikely to be changed now – consensus or no consensus over its contents.