On May 25, political arch-rivals, the ruling Georgian Dream and the United National Movement, jointly endorsed amendments to the election and self-governance codes. The rare deal is paving the way for lifting the deadlocks in Batumi and Senaki Local Councils (Sakrebulo).
What are the changes?
The new members of already convened Local Councils will no longer need to have their credentials endorsed by the majority of the councilors.
Irrespective of whether a new member won a vacated majoritarian seat through by-elections, or takes over an emptied proportional seat by being next-in-line on the party list, their credentials will be recognized automatically, without a council vote.
In the case of majoritarian members, this will happen 14 days after the Central Election Commission publishes the final summary protocol of the by-election. When it comes to the proportionally-elected members, this happens in the same timeframe, after the election administration rules on the replacement.
The new rules also stipulate that following local elections a Mayor will take office and Sakrebulo members will automatically have their credentials recognized 14 days after the CEC publishes the relevant final protocols.
The rules, particularly those on majoritarian councilors elected in by-elections and replacement members are regarded as a path to overcome the crises in the Sakrebulos in Batumi and Senaki, which have been deadlocked without a majority since October 2021, when local elections were held.
How did the deadlocks happen?
In the local polls, the ruling Georgian Dream party won 16 seats, the United National Movement, the largest opposition party, — 15, ex-Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia’s For Georgia — 3, and Lelo — 1.
With the 35-member Sakrebulo hung, the opposition’s hopes for the election of a chair — and commanding a majority — were dashed after For Georgia member, Irakli Tavdgiridze deserted the party over “unacceptable” possible cooperation with the UNM. Afterwards, the largest opposition party’s majoritarian councilor Nugzar Putkaradze passed away, allegedly after being pressured to also quit (Read more about this here.)
Putkaradze’s passing meant neither side could elect a chair until the majoritarian by-elections of April 2022, which was won by GD candidate Ramaz Jincharadze in a vote marred by the claims of foul play.
After Jincharadze’s election, GD could elect a chair, with its 16 councilors and one new member, with the potential backing of the FG-turned-independent member. But the opposition boycotted the Council, which rendered the elections impossible since the presence of 18 councilors is needed to hold a session, endorse the new member’s credentials, and possibly elect the chair.
With the deal on legislative changes, Jincharadze will take his councilor seat automatically, paving the way to a GD-led majority.
In the hung Senaki Sakrebulo, the GD had secured 16 seats, the UNM — 13 and FG — four, meaning the opposition parties could garner exactly the necessary 17 votes to elect the chair of the 33-member council.
But the stalemate began after FG deputy Ilia Akhalaia — elected through a proportional list — quit in early December, leaving the two opposition groups with a total of 16 mandates. Rules of procedure at the Senaki Council stipulate that a replacement member can be endorsed by the majority of councilors in attendance, but no less than 11. However, the majority of all members, 17, are still required to be in attendance to hold a session at all.
With 16 members left, the opposition was by law unable to hold a session without GD councilors’ presence. When GD boycotted the council, the opposition held a session in February anyway, endorsed the credentials of Akhalaia’s replacement and elected FG’s Irakli Kacharava as the Chair. The ruling party and Sakrebulo staff say this violated the law (Read more here). The GD took the dispute to Senaki District Court, and Senaki Sakrebulo’s work was blocked pending deliberation.
The new rules would have the FG councilor take the seat, giving the opposition the chance to then confirm him a chair from among their rank.
The rare deal
In early May, GD unveiled the proposal which would cover replacement members elected through majoritarian by-elections, only breaking the deadlock in Batumi, in favor of the ruling party. Both the UNM and the FG signaled that would be open to an arrangement that saw the deadlock resolved in both Batumi and Senaki, the latter in their favor.
In the May 24 plenary session of the Parliament, Legal Issues Committee Chair Anri Okhanashvili (GD) proposed for the new rules to also cover the proportionally-elected members, citing consultations with the opposition and the civil society.
Another co-sponsor of the bill, MP Guram Macharashvili said from the podium he was willing to take the bill back for the relevant revisions “if at least our unity will be [reflected] in this bill, and this bill can become the basis for us to somehow find the common ground on this issue.”
UNM MP Ana Tsitlidze pledged the opposition party’s support if the GD revised the bill. “This will be a very good, clear example that — no matter how politically opposed we may be — when it comes to fundamental issues such as local self-governance, democracy in this country, we can work together like this,” she added.
The revised legislative package — amendments to the local self-government and electoral codes — was adopted in the final reading on May 25, in a fast-tracked procedure, with support from both the GD and the UNM, as well as the European Socialists, an opposition outfit largely aligned with the ruling party.
Other ‘hung’ Sakrebulos
Five other Sakrebulos were deadlocked following the October 2021 local elections.