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Ruling party offers proportional elections with zero threshold to calm crowds

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, June 25
The Georgian Dream ruling party has met one of the top demands of demonstrators in Tbilisi and stated that 2020 parliamentary elections will be held with the proportional electoral system only, adding that the election threshold will be zero.

Moving to the proportional elections from 2020 and not from 2024, as the current Georgian constitution reads, has been one of the main demands of the opposition for many years, who believe that a mixed electoral system Georgia has now “is unfair”, boosting chances for the ruling parry occupy more seats in the 150-member parliament than it deserves.

The decision on the elections comes amid hash public protest in the Georgian capital, which was sparked by the presence of Russian MPs in the Georgian parliament on June 20, during the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy.

The rally initiated by the opposition “to protect the state dignity” late on June 20 ended with dispersal, 305 detained and 240 injured, with several youngsters losing eyesight in one of their eyes due to rubber bullets.

The demonstrators have been demanding the dismissal of Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze, Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia, the release of all those detained during the rally and snap parliamentary elections only with the proportional electoral system.

Kobakhidze resigned, and the demand on the proportional electoral system has also been met. The opposition says that two other demands must be fulfilled as well.

Georgian ex-President, a founder of the United National Movement opposition, says that those who will accept the offer on the elections “are either fool or bribed.”

Saakashvili says that with the use of zero threshold the Georgian Dream will encourage “Russia-run parties” enter the parliament.

The European Georgia opposition member Elene Khoshtaria says that the decision on the elections is “an achievement.”

The United National Movement opposition says that the rallies will not stop until all their demands are met.

Former Parliament Speaker Davit Usupashvili states that the “Georgian Dream has managed to endure the pressure on proportional elections for five years and only now, the protest of the youth, made the party step back.”

Usupashvili says that the ruling party will try to use the zero threshold to divide opposition parties.

“However, the change has its many pros in terms of the natural selection of opposition parties,” Usupashvili says.

Expert Levan Bodzashvili believes that several changes will become necessary in the Georgian constitution to avoid a “mess” in the Georgian parliament when all the parties will be given a chance to appear there.

One of the leaders of the Georgian Dream ruling party, who may become a new Parliament Speaker of Georgia, Archil Talakvadze says that the party has confirmed that the “public view is superior to them.”

Acting Parliament Speaker Tamar Chugoshvili vows that the decision will “push genuine changes” in the Georgian politics and stated that the ruling party is ready to start consultations with interested parties around the initiative.

Currently Georgia has a mixed electoral system with 77 seats in its 150-member parliament allocated proportionally under the party-list among parties or electoral blocs which clear a 5 percent threshold in the race.

The remaining 73 MPs are elected in 73 single-member districts, known as “majoritarian” mandates. A majoritarian MP candidate has to gain more than 50 percent of votes to take a seat in the legislative body.

The new constitution of Georgia, adopted in 2017, which came into play after last year’s presidential elections, reads that Georgia moved to fully proportional elections from 2024, the decision of the ruling party which has been strongly opposed by the opposition.

In 2016, under the mixed electoral system, the Georgian Dream gained 116 seats.

Expert in constitutional issues Vakhushti Menabde says that a zero threshold refers to the specific formula to count mandates, with a “de-facto barrier existing anyway.”

He says that in the case of Georgia the threshold is about 0.67 percent, which means that for each 0.67 percent a party gains one seat in parliament.