Why do we need single-mandate MPs?
The ruling Georgian Dream party gained 48,6% of votes (that is less than half of the electorate who cast their ballots at the polling stations) in October 8 parliamentary elections).
Despite that, it’s quite possible that this party will enjoy the constitutional majority in future Parliament.
The second round of election, scheduled for October 30, will decide everything. With few exceptions, the ruling Georgian Dream and the oppositional National Movement candidates will compete with each other at 50 single-mandate constituencies.
In the event the Georgian Dream manages to gain 50 majority MP seats as a result of the second round of ballot, it will enjoy the constitutional majority in Parliament. In other words, any bill or constitutional amendment will be passed by it single-handedly, without the opposition’s support and consultations with it.
Is it fair that the party, that enjoys less than half of electorate’s support, will gain the mandate necessary for constitutional changes?
Why does it happen so?
The main reason lies in the electorate system, through which the parliamentary elections are held and under which ‘the winner takes it all’.
Based on what system are the elections held nowadays?
Parliamentary elections in Georgia are held based on mixed electoral system. 77 out of the total 150 MPs are elected through the party lists, while 73 MPs – through the majoritarian system.
On the election day, the voters are given two ballot papers–the first one with the parties enlisted and another one – with the list of persons standing as candidates in a particular majoritarian constituency.
Finally, the mandates gained by the parties through majoritarian and proportional systems are summed up mechanically. For example, if the party’s list has been supported by 40% of voters in elections [which is approximately 30 mandates], and its 50 candidates have won through the majoritarian system, the party will get 80 seats in Parliament.
There is an absolute majority majoritarian electoral system in Georgia, which implies that a candidate should gain 50+1% of votes to win the election, otherwise, the second round of election will be held between the two candidates showing the best results. A candidate with big lead wins the elections.
What’s negative about this system?
The main negative aspect is, first of all, that this system allows a party to get more mandates than the actual support it enjoys. For example, what may be the case with “Georgian Dream” is that it may have over 113 MPs (which is already the constitutional majority, i.e. the majority that is required for changing such an important law as country’s Constitution) in the 150-seat parliament, despite the fact that it enjoys support of less than half of the electorate.
Another problem with this system is that it enhances party’s chances to staff the unicameral or bicameral parliament.
Let’s imagine that one of the country’s political parties is most popular and its electorate is equally distributed in the majoritarian constituencies, i.e. this party stands really good chances to get all majoritarian mandates and leave no chances to others.
For example, in 2009 parliamentary elections, then-ruling United National Movement gained 119 MP seats through a 59% support, which is 79% of the total MP mandates, whereas it was actually supported by 59% of voters.
Experts and watchdog organizations are unanimous in the opinion that in Georgia, where the democratic institutions are weak and the authorities widely use the administrative resources, the mixed electoral system always works for the ruling party’s benefit. The ruling party has already gained twice the constitutional majority in parliament elected through this system.
And one more drawback: since it’s a particular person, rather than a party, who stands for majoritarian MP elections, nomination of prominent figures [e.g. a businessman, an actor, a sportsman etc.] is a proven method. For example, to win the election in certain precinct, some N party will nominate a famous pop-singer, who is publicly known, but who is absolutely unaware of lawmaking, rather than, let’s say, a high-skilled lawyer.
Businessmen also often stand as candidates. They usually finance their campaigns themselves and donate funds to a party in exchange for getting seats in Parliament. The funds donated to the parties ahead of elections also testify to that. For example, Georgian Dream majority MP candidates were donated over GEL1billion in May-September 2016.
Does this system have any positive sides?
It certainly has. For example, the majoritarian system ensures direct communication between the electorate and an electee.
And also, this system, to a certain extent, weakens the party hierarchy– i.e. in the proportional elections a party can give preference to a candidate itself [when determining his/her number in the party list], whereas in the majoritarian system it should be more thoughtful of the voters and should nominate a candidate who will be supported by the electorate in this or that region. Consequently, a majoritarian MP feels that he/she is more independent of the party.
The majoritarian system also implies provision of geographical representation in Parliament. A majoritarian MP has an opportunity to present the problems of his constituency in Parliament and to lobby their resolution.
How did other countries solve this problem?
Each in a different way. Most of them-91 countries, use the majoritarian system; 72 countries use the proportional system; whereas the mixed electoral system is used only in 30 countries, including Georgia, Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria.
The world’s best practice shows that the mixed electoral system is mostly applied by the countries at the early stage, after gaining independence, whereas the countries with established democracy mostly apply the proportional electoral system.
For example, there are different kinds of proportional systems in Austria, Denmark, Spain, the Netherlands, Greece and some other countries.
As for solely majoritarian system, it is mostly applied by the unitary and federal states with bicameral parliaments. In this case, the majoritarian system is necessary to ensure representation of historically and geographically different regions in the legislative body, like, for example, in the USA.
It actually makes no sense to ensure geographical representation in a unicameral parliament of such a small country like Georgia and, for this purpose, to choose the majoritarian system.
What are the experts’ proposed alternatives?
Substitution of Georgia’s majoritarian electoral system with the regional-proportional one has been long recommended by the experts and NGOs.
A package of amendments has been already submitted to Parliament and if passed, the next elections will be conducted approximately the following way:
75 MPs will be again elected through proportional system, while the rest 75 MPs – through the regional-proportional system. In this case, the country will be divided into multi-mandate constituencies according to the regions, where the parties will present their individual party lists. Consequently, in each region, the parties will be elected through proportional system and in case of overcoming the mandatory threshold, these parties will get seats in Parliament. Against such a background, it’s quite possible that one constituency [region] be represented by several parties. It is noteworthy that in case of introduction of such changes, the electoral threshold may drop from 5 to 4%.
Will the next elections be conducted based on a new system?
There is no answer to this question so far.
Before coming into power, the Georgian Dream claimed, the available electoral system was unfair and it needed to be changed. However, after coming into power it has failed to keep its promise.
The constitutional changes were considered in Parliament a year and a half before October 8 parliamentary elections, but the ruling party claimed that 1,5 year was hardly enough time for implementing such major changes and it didn’t back the reform. Those, who supported changes, failed to gain the constitutional majority [113 votes] and the reform was thwarted.
Thus, it’s hard to predict, how the Georgian Dream will act in future. Will it give up on such an important lever, especially as it will have the constitutional majority in Parliament and will enjoy unlimited powers beyond it?
How much does this system cost the budget?
Majoritarian system is an additional expenditure to the budget, both, before and after the election. In the first case, it’s the second round that is associated with additional costs, whereas in the second case – the majoritarian MP bureaus, that receive over GEL1billion funding per year. The main purpose of these bureaus is to ensure majoritarian MPs’ communication with the electorate.
Maybe such spending is justified and the majoritarian MPs carry out productive lawmaking activity?
According to the Transparency International Georgia’ survey findings, only 11% of voters on average know who the majoritarian MPs are.
Evaluation of the 4-year activity of the Parliament of 8th convocation revealed that 16 lawmakers never even took the floor. 10 MPs in this passive MP rating are the majoritarian MPs.
Moreover, the majoritarian MP bureaus’ activities are so non-transparent, that even the most well-skilled NGOs find it difficult to get information about their activities, to say nothing of the population. For example, Transparency International Georgia, which was preparing a report on their activities last year, couldn’t get any response from 23 bureau. Some of them couldn’t be found at all, whereas others didn’t bother themselves answering the organization’s questions. As for the activity of 47 bureaus, in most of the cases, the information in this regard wasn’t properly registered and there are no levers to verify such information.
- According to the final results of October 8 parliamentary elections, the Georgian Dream party gained 48,68% of votes; the oppositional United National Movement (UNM) – 27,11%; the Patriots’ Alliance bloc- 5,01%. None of other parties managed to overcome a mandatory 5% threshold.