Important electoral reform in Georgia – constitutional amendments pass second reading
The Georgian parliament has adopted proposed constitutional amendments in the second reading of the bill which have long been the subject of a dispute between the authorities and the opposition pertaining to electoral reform in the country.
115 out of 150 MPs voted for the amendments, three voted against and one abstained. Opposition factions United National Movement and European Georgia did not participate in the vote.
Why the opposition refused to vote
Both parties refuse to vote on the amendments until opposition activist and co-founder of TV channel Mtavari Arkhi Giorgi Rurua is released from prison.
The opposition insists that the release of all political prisoners was one of the conditions agreed upon by the authorities and the opposition on March 8 under the mediation of foreign diplomats when they met to discuss constitutional changes.
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Representatives of the ruling Georgian Dream party still deny that they agreed to release the opposition, saying that there are “no political prisoners” in Georgia. Nevertheless, after the agreement was made and at the request of Western diplomats, the president pardoned the condemned opposition leaders Gigi Ugulava and Irakli Okruashvili, who were then set free.
Western diplomats, American congressmen and members of the European Parliament have repeatedly called for Georgian authorities to release Rurua.
Rurua, was detained in November 2019 on charges of illegal possession of weapons.
What is changing during the next elections
The new constitutional amendments mean that in the 2020 parliamentary elections, 120 MPs will be elected proportionally, according to party lists, and that 30 will be elected per the majoritarian system.
Under the current system, 77 of the 150 MPs are elected by party lists, and 73 are elected according to the majoritarian system (i.e., from 73 majoritarian constituencies).
The opposition believes that this system gives an advantage to the ruling party and does not adequately reflect the will of the voters.
After mass opposition rallies in the summer of 2019, the leader of the ruling Georgian Dream Party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, promised to fulfill one of the protesters’ main demands – to transition to a fully proportional system.
However, in November 2019, ruling party MPs failed to vote for this amendment, sparking new protests in Tbilisi, which ultimately ended in the March 8 agreement.
Another important amendment states that a party which does not get 40 percent of the vote will not have the right to form a one-party government.
The bill states that the electoral threshold for parties will be only 1 percent, instead of the current 5 percent.
Parliament will have to vote for the amendments once more, during the third reading, and at least 113 votes will be required to pass the amendments.
“I hope that everything will go well in the third reading. My colleagues and I did not allow the authorities and the opposition to vote down the amendments, which is what they tried to do. These changes will help the country gain a more balanced parliament,” said independent MP and former member of the ruling faction Tamar Chugoshvili.
The United National Movement opposition party says the amendments will have more political weight if they are supported by all parties. But the opposition will vote for them only if all conditions of the March 8 agreement are met.
“There is only one small step to take – Ivanishvili must free Giorgi Rurua,” said MP Roman Gotsiridze.
If the amendments are adopted, the new 120/30 electoral system will be valid until 2024. The next elections in 2024 will be held according to the proportional system.