Georgian Dream, Opposition Reach Consensus over Electoral Reform

The ruling Georgian Dream party and the opposition have reached a consensus over electoral system reform ahead of crucial 2020 parliamentary polls.

On March 8, after a negotiation round that took place at U.S. Ambassador’s official residence, all parties at the negotiating table made a joint statement marking achievement of an agreement. They undersigned parties pledged to “be engaged in dialogue in the interest of ensuring free and fair Parliamentary elections in 2020 that reflect the will of the Georgian people.” According to the statement, parties subscribe to the importance of upholding and striving for the highest standards in the functioning of Georgia’s judicial system.

“We all agree on the necessity of addressing actions that could be perceived as inappropriate politicization of Georgia’s judicial and electoral processes and of avoiding any such actions in the future,” mentions the joint statement, referring to a month-long deadlock in negotiations. The parties also welcomed President Zurabishvili’s offer to facilitate the process.

The parties signed a memorandum of understanding which puts forward proposed draft amendment to the Constitution defining the rules for the upcoming elections. As stated in the document, the Parliament shall consist of 120 members elected through the proportional party lists and 30 members elected through majoritarian system (single mandate constituencies). The electoral threshold for proportional elections will be fixed at 1% of the votes.

Currently, the Georgian Parliament consists of 150 lawmakers, with 77 MPs elected through proportional party lists and 73 MPs elected as majoritarians from single-mandate constituencies. With the help of majoritarian seats, the present mixed system unduly favors the largest party.

The envisaged amendment will introduce a capping mechanism stipulating that “no single party that receives less than 40 % of the votes cast is allowed to receive a majority of seats in the parliament.” The document mentions that “further caps and provisions” will be put in place to facilitate “a more proportional distribution of mandates” relative to the votes received by the political parties.

With regard to the electoral geography, 30 electoral districts will be drawn in compliance with the pertinent ruling of the Georgian Constitutional Court and recommendations issued by the Venice Commission. The redrawing process would ensure that the deviation from the average electorate size of districts should not exceed 15 %. Preference will be given to creating districts within the same region unless the distribution of the electorate requires otherwise. However, the draft text allows up to three limited exceptions from the aforementioned rules “in the interest of encouraging the representation of ethnic minority groups, citizens residing in mountainous regions, or for accommodating particular geographic needs.”

The memorandum sets a ten-day timeline for the Parliamentary majority to submit its proposed mapping of electoral districts after initiating the constitutional amendments in the Parliament.

In the concluding clause, the memorandum insists that in case of snap elections between 2020 and 2024, the first such election will be held according to the electoral system guiding the 2020 elections. Nevertheless, any subsequent elections will be held based on the fully proportional election system as foreseen for the 2024 Parliamentary elections.

Prior to the concluding an agreement, Georgian Dream and opposition parties held four unsuccessful rounds of foreign-mediated meetings. The talks commenced in late November 2019, following Georgian Dream’s November 14 decision to downvote promised constitutional amendment that would transfer the country’s mixed electoral system to fully proportional one from 2020 (instead of 2024).

On February 10, opposition parties quit the negotiations after jailing of Gigi Ugulava, a leader of the European Georgia party. Talks resumed, albeit informally, on February 27, owing to mediation efforts by the EU and U.S. representatives.

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