The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) released a statement on 29 August that argued that the by-elections planned in Senaki Municipality for one vacant seat on the Senaki Local Council (Sakrebulo) should be canceled and extraordinary elections be called for the entire Local Council instead.
The Central Election Commission announced on 12 August that by-elections will be held on 1 October in the majoritarian district #№64.04of the Senaki Municipality to fill one currently empty seat. According to the election administration, the election will be conducted through electronic means at three polling stations. The need to hold by-elections in Senaki municipality arose after a member of the United National Movement (UNM) faction, Vakhtang Tsurtsumia, left the local council. His authority was officially terminated on May 31 before the end of his mandate.
ISFED emphasized that the scheduled by-elections “do not address the existing challenges and are not aimed to solve the systemic crisis in the Senaki City Council.”
The civil society organization added that according to legislation, the Georgian Government should “make a decision of introducing direct state governance in the Senaki City Council, and the President and the Prime Minister should schedule the extraordinary elections in a short time frame.”
Issues in Senaki
ISFED noted that Senaki’s issues started after a For Georgia party member of the Senaki Local Council elected by the proportional list chose to withdraw, leaving the opposition and the ruling Georgian Dream party with an equal 16-16 mandates.
To resolve the issue, the Local Council was meant to hold a session to recognize the mandate of the For Georgia party member’s replacement. But at the time, Georgian Dream “announced an actual boycott and refused to participate in the sessions” to avoid electing a member which would restore the opposition’s majority in the Council.
As a result, a “crisis was created and the City Council was paralyzed.” ISFED underscored in its statement, however, that in May 2022, amendments to the Electoral Code of Georgia no longer required a decision of the Local Council to confirm the authority of a substitute member.
In line with those changes, the opposition should have had another chance to gather a majority with 17 mandates. At the end of May, however, when Tsurtsumia chose to leave his post, which the UNM party attributed to outside pressure, the Council’s paralysis was prolonged.
This means that to date the Local Council has been unable to hold official meetings since December 17 due to a lack of quorum with up to 10 sessions having been canceled since December. ISFED noted that in that period there was also a dispute about decisions made by the opposition during February 19-23 when they held sessions in the absence of a quorum.
ISFED argued that since existing legislation requires a Local Council to be terminated if it fails to meet for 6 consecutive months, which is officially the case in Senaki, the by-elections should be scheduled for the entire Senaki Local Council and not just the one vacant seat left by Tsurtsumia.
Based on that argument, ISFED called for the Georgian Government to “issue a decree on the early termination of the power of the City Council as soon as possible and also make a decision on the introduction of direct state governance.”
In line with that, ISFED urged President Salome Zurabishvili and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili to discuss and appointed the extraordinary elections for the Council.
Finally, they stated that “the Central Election Commission, due to the change in the factual and legal grounds, which makes the October by-elections meaningless, should make a decision on its cancellation.”