Rejection of the fully proportional electoral system and protest of opposition in Georgia | Eurasia Diary - ednews.net

9 December, Monday


Rejection of the fully proportional electoral system and protest of opposition in Georgia

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In June 2019, several weeks of mass demonstrations in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, led to the appearance of Russian lawmakers in the Georgian parliament. Although Russian lawmakers have withdrawn from the Georgian parliament, civil protests on the streets have increased. On the second day after the demonstration, protesters raised three demands. They demanded the resignation of the Interior Minister, the adoption of proportional representation for the next parliamentary elections, and the immediate release of detainees. [1] The authorities eventually accused the protestors of trying to invade Parliament and with the use of water cannons, disbanded the protestors. Police pursued rally participants, chasing them down various streets and using force. Several hundred people were injured as a result of the violent dispersal, including policemen, journalists and peaceful protesters. Three rally participants lost their eyesights after being hit by rubber bullets.  
 
On June 24, 2019, a few days after mass demonstrations, the Georgian Dream ruling party announced the 2020 parliamentary elections will be conducted through a proportional system under a zero electoral threshold.[2] According the current mixed electoral system, 77 MPs are elected by a proportional electoral system and the remaining 73 MPs are elected in single member districts. MPs members of the majority consistently support the ruling party and always take pro-government positions. During the constitutional reform of 2017-2018, the ruling Georgian Dream coalition postponed the introduction of a system of proportional representation to 2024 despite demands from the opposition, NGOs and international organizations.
 
The ruling party’s view of a switch to a proportional electoral system was seen as a major victory for protestors, and they hoped the legislation would actually change. Towards these ends, the relevant constitutional amendment was initiated in the Parliament by the ruling party itself and public meetings were held in the regions of Georgia for a month. At the same time, the opposition parties submitted a draft constitutional amendment, collecting the signatures of more than 200,000 citizens. According to this initiative, the proportional system of parliamentary elections should be held at a 3% threshold and should not prohibit the creation of election blocs.
 
In order to change the constitution of Georgia during one parliamentary session, the bill must achieve the support of ¾ of the Members of Parliament; in the absence of such support, the initiative should be considered by the next elected legislature. The initiative put forward by both the opposition and the ruling party went through all the procedures and was set to vote in parliament on November 14, 2019. Parliament did not support the opposition’s proposed bill, but expectations were high that the parliamentary majority would adopt a draft pledged by the ruling party in June. The poll found that 101 lawmakers voted in favor of the amendment, 3 opposed it, 113 votes were essential for decision, and parliament rejected a proportional system.
 
The parliamentary outcome has drawn widespread criticism from opposition parties, civic activists and NGOs: it was considered a failure by the ruling party to fulfill its promise in June and that the ruling party’s chairman, Bidzina Ivanishvili, should take the blame for the failure. The day before the parliamentary debate on the constitutional amendments the majoritarian MPs opposed the amendments. For example, Dimitri Khundadze said that the proportional system is dangerous for the country.[4]  Kakha Okriashvili said that the proportional system threatens the stability of the country and cannot support it despite the party leader’s pressure to change their decision.[5] The majoritarian MPs, who were never active in parliament, were opposed to the proportional electoral system, but their independence was questionable. Much of the public is convinced that the ruling party uses majoritarians MPs to reject the proportional system.
 
Majoritarian MPs opposed the shift to proportional system in 2018 as well, and it was even considered to be a situation manipulated to maintain a mixed electoral system. The Parliament of Georgia, where 77 members are elected proportionally and 73 are majoritarian, has the advantage for a ruling party in forming a parliamentary majority in a situation where it has low proportional representation. This is what happened in the 2016 election, when the Georgian Dream, with 48% support, won 73 majoritarian constituencies and thus formed a majority in parliament. That is why the opposition is calling for a fair electoral system in the form of a proportional system where the ruling party has no advantage.
 
Senior officials have responded to the denial of the constitutional amendments. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the chair of the ruling party himself, said that, “I am disappointed that ultimately, our initiative to hold the 2020 parliamentary elections on a proportional basis with zero electoral thresholds failed to come to fruition.” Unfortunately, the Parliament of Georgia rejected this initiative due to opposition from one part of the deputies of the Georgian Dream, most of who are majoritarians.[6]
 
While the opposition and the public protested the rejection of the constitutional amendments, only later did the President of Georgia comment. The President said that changes or the absence thereof in the electoral system should not be used to create a new wave of instability.[7]
 
The country’s prime minister said that “a proportional electoral system is a step forward in our democratization. This is the decision we made and we want it to be implemented. I would like to emphasize that we will fulfill this promise and that we will fulfill this promise in the Constitution. Let’s not forget that the talk was about 2020. However, we must also remember that the country will have a proportional system as it has in the Constitution from 2024.[8]
 
Officials said they have done everything they could to introduce a proportional electoral system, but failed to agree with the majoritarian MPs and other members of the team. They think this is part of inter-party democracy and there are different opinions. At first glance it is possible in this opinion there is nothing unusual, but it is the position on the constitutional changes, which was under consideration for a month in the regions, then went through all the procedures, signed also majoritarian MPs, they have not expressed different positions and only during the polling day they opposed to the ruling party, is not reliable.
 
Along with the statements of the ruling party leaders, vice Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia Tamar Chugoshvili, and 11 MPs have left the Georgian Dream ruling party after the rejection of the bill. In addition, several members of parliament said they needed time to consider whether to remain in the parliamentary majority. Given these circumstances, there is an expectation that parliament will be dissolved. However, the opposition also thinks the ruling party could lead the country to early parliamentary elections, which will be run by a mixed electoral system that favors the government. 

 

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