The Georgian Government has reached an agreement with opposition groups over changes to the electoral system for October’s parliamentary election.
According to the deal reached on 8 March, 120 MPs will be elected proportionately through party lists and 30 through single-member majoritarian constituencies.
In Georgia’s current single-chamber parliament of 150 members, 77 MPs are elected with a proportional system from party lists while the remaining 73 are elected as party members or independent candidates through majoritarian electoral constituencies.
The deal comes after almost four months of protracted negotiations, stalemate, protests, and a boycott of parliament by opposition MPs.
The deal also states that no party would be able to form a government alone with less than 40% of the vote.
The threshold for a party to enter parliament from the proportional vote would stand at 1%, down from the current threshold of 5%.
There has been a consensus among opposition and election watchdog groups that staying with the present model would have helped the government (and any future party in power) concentrate power more easily.
The lower minimum threshold would also increase the chances of smaller political parties being represented.
The agreement also states that the system agreed for October parliamentary elections would also apply if snap elections take place before 2024.
According to Georgia’s current constitution, the country will switch to a fully-proportional system in 2024.
The deal was brokered by the US Embassy in Tbilisi, the EU Delegation to Georgia, and the Georgian Office of the Council of Europe. They released a joint statement on 8 March hailing the agreement to ‘ensure free and fair Parliamentary elections in 2020 that reflect the will of the Georgian people’.
Others to welcome the deal included Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir, director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) under the OSCE.
Glad to see agreement in #Georgia over changes to the election system. Once adopted, this is very important in the run-up to the parliamentary election later this year, pending a thorough assessment by ODIHR election observers on the ground. https://t.co/BfoaMBSXxm
— Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir (@ODIHRdirector) March 8, 2020
Several issues regarding October’s election still remain to be agreed upon, including how election blocks will work and the boundaries of the new, enlarged majoritarian constituencies.
Several senior members of Georgian Dream, which currently holds 94 seats in parliament, have confirmed that they intend to initiate legal amendments to reform the election system in the coming days.
They said the changes would require constitutional amendments to implement, which require at least 113 votes in parliament to pass.
Before constitutional amendments can be voted on a Constitutional Commission must be set up and public discussions should be held about the proposed changes.
A previous attempt to reform the system — to a fully-proportional one — was voted down by majoritarian MPs from Georgian Dream in November.
Several of those MPs have stated that the deal was acceptable and have vowed to support the new law.
This previous attempt was introduced by Georgian Dream after the party’s chair, Bidzina Ivanishvili, promised to do so in June.
This promise came amidst large protests in Tbilisi over the invitation of a Russian Communist MP to address parliament.
‘Freeing Political prisoners’
Another contested issue remaining to be addressed is the release of people considered by many in the opposition to be political prisoners.
Negotiations over the electoral system broke a month ago after European Georgia MP and former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava was sentenced to three years and two months in prison on embezzlement charges.
Several opposition groups claimed the verdict against Ugulava was part of a series of ‘politicised’ prosecutions.
Others the opposition say are being prosecuted on politically motivated grounds include Besik Tamliani, a participant of 20 June’s anti-government protest, former Georgian Defence Minister Irakli Okruashvili, who faced charges of organising and leading group violence, and Giorgi Rurua, a supporter of anti-government protests who also remains in pre-trial detention for illegal arms possession.
After the deal was announced on 8 March, some opposition leaders stated that ‘freeing political prisoners’ was part of the agreement even if no one was named in the text of the joint memorandum.
On 9 March, opposition groups reconvened in their traditional format and released a statement urging Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili and ‘other state institutions’ to ensure Ugulava, Tamliani, Okruashvili and Rurua be freed as part of the agreement.
Irma Inashvili, Chair of conservative opposition party the Alliance of Patriots confirmed there was a ‘second memorandum on political prisoners’ that they had declined to join. The party was a part of the agreement on the electoral changes.
In their joint statement, the US Embassy, the EU Delegation, and the Council of Europe said that all parties had agreed ‘on the necessity of addressing actions that could be perceived as inappropriate politicisation of Georgia’s judicial and electoral processes and of avoiding any such actions in the future’.
Georgian Dream leaders have so far vehemently denied a deal on ‘freeing political prisoners’, insisting that there were no political prisoners to free.