Georgia: ruling party putting on show or dealing with mutiny? Parliament discusses proportional election system
The Georgian parliament has again postponed a vote on a bill proposing to transition to a completely proportional system of parliamentary elections.
This bill would do away with the majoritarian system of single-mandate constituencies, which has in the past given the authorities an advantage over the opposition.
The main demand of large-scale protests in the center of Tbilisi in June this year was the transition to a proportional system for the parliamentary elections.
Then the leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party Bidzina Ivanishvili personally took on the responsibility to fulfill this requirement. However, today the fulfillment of the promise is in question.
In parallel with the discussion of the bill in parliament, a protest titled “Do not Dare!” Is being held near its walls. Its participants remind MPs of the promise they made in the summer and warn them not to try to do away with the bill, otherwise large-scale protests will begin in the country again
Strange events are taking place in the Georgian parliament: two months ago, the Georgian Dream itself registered a bill with a series of amendments to switch to a proportional election system.
The document was signed by 93 deputies.
However, today, when it came to the bill’s adoption and a vote on the matter, some MPs (up to about 30 people) said that the changes they contained ‘threats to the state’ and they would not support them.
Meanwhile, a constitutional majority is needed to pass the bill. On November 13, after a rather emotional parliamentary meeting, majority MPs who supported the amendments to the Constitution asked to postpone the meeting in order to convince their party members to support the bill.
Voting is expected to take place tomorrow. Prior to this, the Georgian Dream plans to hold a congress in its party office and once again consult with party leader Bidzina Ivanishvili.
In the political circles of the country, few people believe that several historically passive MPs of the Georgian Dream (including those who are close to Ivanishvili in business) would dare to rebel against their leader – especially on such a fundamental issue as constitutional amendments.
The opposition and some experts call what is happening a performance that, on the instructions of Ivanishvili, is being played out by MPs who “are allegedly rebelling against their team and Ivanishvili himself.”
In their opinion, since the the turbulent summer during which street protests came to naught, the situation in the country has gradually stabilised, Ivanishvili decided not to take risks and withdraw his decision on proportional elections, which may not be a beneficial move for his party.
According to political observers, there is a serious crisis in the ruling team.
“The situation is comic. How can a person submit a certain initiative to parliament, and after two months begin to criticize it.
“Most have never contradicted Ivanishvili, therefore the conclusion suggests itself that we are dealing with a mediocre performance.
“At the same time, it cannot be ruled out that these people saw they would not end up in the next parliament, and started trying to get around the adoption of constitutional amendments, or trying to sell their votes and support for it for more. But Ivanishvili can do away with them as well, he is a great specialist in this. And now he is trying to dupe the public, but it will cost him dearly”, said Otar Kakhidze, a member of the opposition European Georgia.
Former parliamentary speaker, now oppositionist David Usupashvili, said that Ivanishvili announced the move to a proportional election system in order to defuse the overly tense situation in the summer, and now he is trying to win back the situation.
“I never noticed behind those MPs who today oppose the adoption of constitutional amendments, the slightest movements against Ivanishvili,” Usupashvili said.
What is a proportional election system?
Today, Georgia has a mixed electoral system: out of 150 MPs, 77 are elected by the proportional system, and 73 by the majority single-member constituencies.
The civil sector and international organizations, under the reign of Mikheil Saakashvili, advocated the abolition of this system.
In their opinion, in a country with weak democratic institutions, when the authorities enter elections and use so-called administrative resources, such an election system is not conducive to the holding of competitive fair elections. It works for the ruling party and contributes to the unfair distribution of seats in parliament between political forces.
Accordingly, as a rule, pro-government candidates won in majoritarian districts, and in the parliament, as a result, an unfair redistribution of seats takes place. For example, according to the results of the last parliamentary elections in 2016, the ruling Georgian Dream was supported by less than half of the voters – 48%, but due to the majority deputies who won the elections in single-member districts, the Georgian Dream was able to form a constitutional majority – out of 150 parliamentary seats, it had at its disposal 115 votes.
Earlier, the Georgian Dream itself, while still in opposition, demanded the abolition of the mixed election system, but, having come to power, began to consider this system quite acceptable.
The Georgian Dream earlier agreed to abolish the majority system for the parliamentary elections of 2024, and not for the 2020 elections.
The proportional system and the Gavrilov Night
Everything changed in June 2019, when thousands of people took to the streets of Tbilisi, protesting against pro-Russian politics.
The reason was the visit to the capital of Georgia of the State Duma deputy, communist Sergei Gavrilov, and his speech in the Georgian parliament.
Much of the public found his speech unacceptable and humiliating.
One of the main demands of the protesters in June was precisely the holding of elections on a proportional system and the abolition of the majority system.
This demand was met rather quickly.
The corresponding decision was made by Bidzina Ivanishvili himself – the leader of the ruling party and the informal ruler of Georgia.
“The Georgian Dream has taken on the initiative of large-scale political reform: to hold parliamentary elections in 2020 according to a proportional system, with a zero electoral threshold,” Ivanishvili said on June 24, the second day of the protest.
Participants in those rallies today say that if the vote on the transition to a proportional election system in the parliament fails, they are ready to stage a new wave of protests in Tbilisi.
“All these days what we have seen is a real circus. This is a Russian scenario. Freedom of choice is being taken away from us. But if they give us a slap in the face, they will receive a fist and a kick in the ass in response,” said Shota Digmelashvili, one of the organizers of the June protests.