On air on Maestro TV, the Secretary General of the New Rights Party, Mamuka Katsitadze, talked about the Parliamentary elections system. "Two alternative propositions have been put forward. These propositions can be implemented without amending the Constitution and without abolishing the majoritarian system and, finally, these changes should ensure the equality of the voter mandates, on the one hand, and the matching of the received vote and received mandates, on the other hand. We put forward these two models. One is the so-called German model and the other is the multiple-mandate majoritarian model."FactCheck
took interest in the accuracy of this statement.The Parliamentary elections system has been under discussion for years. Abolishing the majoritarian elections system was a pre-elections promise of the Georgian Dream coalition (FactCheck wrote
about this issue earlier as well). The Opposition political parties as well as numerous non-governmental organisations have several times called upon the Government of Georgia to reform the electoral system before the 2016 Parliamentary elections. Most of these propositions demanded the abolition of the majoritarian system. In its resolution, entitled the Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Georgia, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called upon all political parties to agree upon an elections system which would be based upon a wide consensus and strengthen the pluralistic nature of the country’s political institutions. In addition, the Constitutional Court of Georgia called upon the government to undertake reforms which would minimise the inequality of votes between various constituencies.
Instead of reforming the existing electoral system at its core, the Parliamentary Majority postponed the abolition of the majoritarian electoral system until 2020. According to the decision of the Parliamentary Majority, the existing mixed electoral system will remain in power for the 2016 Parliamentary elections.
This year, a candidate who manages to obtain more than half of the votes (instead of 30%) in majoritarian constituencies will be considered as an elected majoritarian MP whilst the majoritarian constituencies themselves will be reorganised (as requested by the Constitutional Court of Georgia).
With the demand for reforming the electoral system and holding the 2016 Parliamentary elections using a regional-proportional election system, the Parliamentary and non-Parliamentary Opposition presented 240,000 signatures to the Parliament of Georgia and asked for a public hearing concerning this initiative. This demand, which envisages the abolition of the majoritarian system and holding the elections using the proportional system, has already been registered by the Procedural Issues and Rules Committee of the Parliament of Georgia.
According to the statement of the Parliamentary Majority MP, Vakhtang Khmaladze, the Georgian Dream coalition does not currently possess enough mandates (a sufficient number of MPs) for amending the Constitution. According to the statement of another Parliamentary Majority MP, Davit Berdzenishvili: "There are majoritarian MPs from both the United National Movement and the Georgian Dream coalition who openly oppose the idea of abolishing the majoritarian electoral system. It is not easy to tell someone that they are not necessary anymore." The Parliamentary Opposition parties have unanimously joined the Civil Agreement Memorandum about reforming the electoral system signed by the non-Parliamentary Opposition and non-governmental organisations. This means that the issue of gathering a constitutional majority is one for the Parliamentary Majority itself and not the Parliamentary Opposition. Despite all of the aforementioned, the Parliamentary Majority created a constitutional amendment package which envisages leaving the electoral system intact for the 2016 Parliamentary elections and abolishing the majoritarian system only in 2020.
It has already been 14 months since the inter-party format, consisting of non-Parliamentary Opposition parties, has been functioning in Georgia. A meeting was held between the inter-party groups and the Parliamentary Majority on 21 November 2015. As opposed to the arguments of the Parliamentary Majority, Mamuka Katsitadze says that the inter-party group suggested two models which do not need constitutional amendments or the abolition of the majoritarian system – the so-called German model and the multiple-mandate majoritarian model. On air on Maestro TV, the Parliamentary Majority MP, Gia Zhorzholiani, later confirmed the existence of such proposals.
According to the German model, elections are held using both the proportional as well as the majoritarian models. A political party will not be able to hold more places in the Parliament than the percentage it obtains during elections with a party list. However, if the electorate chooses more majoritarian MPs than the percentage of the party list, the party will be able to keep all of the majoritarian MPs but unable to add any MPs from the party list. If the party obtains more votes from the proportional system than it received from majoritarian constituencies, it will be able to fill in the remaining places with MPs from the party list.
In the case of the multiple-mandate majoritarian system, larger constituencies are created in the country and several majoritarian MPs can be voted for from these constituencies. As an example of this system, Mamuka Katsitadze named the Kakheti region. According to his statement, with about 300,000 voters, Kakheti has six mandates (given the number of voters, about 47,000 voters will have one mandate). Majoritarian MPs will be elected in Kakheti and the top six in terms of votes will sit in the Parliament. Mr Katsitadze highlighted an advantage of this system in that voters will have several MPs in the Parliament who will be directly accountable to them.
According to Gia Zhorzholiani, the Parliamentary Majority plans to consider these proposals; however, they will still support the Parliamentary Majority project even if a consensus about this issue is not reached among the factions. In response to the question of why the electoral system is changing in 2020 and not in 2016, Mr Zhorzholiani replied: "Most MPs in the Parliamentary Majority believe that the changes should take place after 2016… that is the situation right now."
The Parliamentary Opposition took early exit from the aforementioned meeting between the inter-party group and the Parliamentary Majority. According to Mamuka Katsitadze’s statement: "The Georgian Dream coalition came empty handed with regard to changing the electoral system. They just brought the new borders for the single-mandate constituencies for which they received a direct answer that we are not interested. We are even less interested in what will happen in 2020 and we told them that we are ready to speak about various alternatives for 2016." In addition, Mr Katsitadze expressed his impression that the process is being artificially delayed so that changes cannot be made before the 2016 Parliamentary elections. The leaders of other Opposition parties also stated their dissatisfaction.Over a month has passed since the inter-party group’s proposition regarding elections reform. FactCheck
also contacted the Parliamentary Majority MP, Zurab Tkemaladze, who said that the two models proposed to them (the German model and the multiple-mandate majoritarian model) need public discussion as a first stage and afterwards a plenary session should serve as the forum for further discussion. According to Mr Tkemaladze’s response, the date for the plenary session where this issue would be discussed has not yet been designated.
According to the position of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), the changes to the Election Code made by the Parliament of Georgia cannot be considered as a satisfactory resolution for the problem. ISFED stated that given its importance, the electoral system reform must be implemented with the involvement of all interested parties. However, the Opposition political parties and non-governmental organisations have not participated in the creation of any electoral reform project.
On 8 January 2016, the President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili, signed a bill on the amendment of the Election Code. Despite his signature, the President heavily criticised the bill and described it as being of a "technical character" only. "I signed the amendments to the Election Code which was sent to me by the Parliament of Georgia. These amendments definitely are not the elections system reform about which we have been talking for years. These changes were presupposed by the requirements of the decision of the Constitutional Court of Georgia. Hence, these are changes of a technical character. In reality, we do not yet have an electoral system which would be based upon a complete agreement among our political actors."
On 21 November 2015, at their meeting with representatives of the Parliamentary Majority, the inter-party group of the Opposition parties working on the improvement of the electoral environment presented two new models of electoral systems. This has also been confirmed by Parliamentary Majority MPs. Gia Zhorzholiani stated that they would still support the Parliamentary Majority project even if a consensus about the issue was not reached among the factions.
It is a fact that the Parliamentary Majority is not planning to undertake a crucial electoral system reform for 2016 which would mean constitutional amendments and the abolition of the majoritarian system. The aforementioned inter-party group made a compromise and proposed the so-called German model as well as the multiple-mandate majoritarian system instead of the proportional or regional-proportional models as these do not require any changes. However, the Parliamentary Majority does not have any concrete answers in response to these proposals.FactCheck concludes that Mamuka Katsitadze’s statement is TRUE.