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Georgia’s parliament passes controversial electoral code amendments

31 May 2024
Parliament on 30 May 2024. Photo via RFE/RL

On Thursday, Georgia’s parliament adopted controversial amendments to the electoral code that will allow the Central Election Commission (CEC) to issue a decree with a simple majority if it does not receive support from two-thirds of its members. 

The CEC has 17 members — eight nominally non-partisan, and the other nine representing political groups, including the ruling Georgian Dream party. The amendment will effectively allow the CEC to make rulings with nine votes instead of 12, that is, effectively without the support of its eight members who represent opposition groups. 

Eight opposition representatives of the CEC are currently from the United National Movement, Strategy Aghmashenebeli, Girchi — New Political Centre, European Georgia, European Socialists, Citizens, and European Democrats parties. 

While formally an opposition party founded after the 2020 parliamentary elections in a split from the Alliance of Patriots, the European Socialists are considered to be Georgian Dream allies as they have consistently supported the legal initiatives of the parliamentary majority. 

The seven opposition groups have also characterised the non-partisan CEC members as actually allied with the party in the government. 

In recent years, the CEC has often failed to pass initiatives supported by the ruling party, due to failing to gather the necessary 12 votes. The ruling party has generally refused to seek compromise, instead arguing that the CEC should be ‘depoliticised’ by instituting an ‘anti-deadlock’ mechanism. These have included the simple majority rule approved in Thursday’s vote, and axing the position of CEC deputy chair, which was obligately occupied by opposition representatives.  

The latest amendment also eliminated a CEC consultation group of 9-15 members, which had included local and international election observers and a representative of the Public Defender's Office. 


Speaking at a legal affairs committee hearing on 27 May, the author of the bill, Davit Matikashvili, argued that the group established in the wake of the 2020 parliamentary election proved ineffective due to its members refusing to engage in it. Matikashvili was referring to the refusal of key election observer groups, including the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) and Transparency International — Georgia, who boycotted the format on the basis that it lacked independence. 

The amendments adopted by the parliament majority on 30 May also guarantee that family members of those temporarily employed by the CEC during the election will no longer potentially become ineligible for social allowances in the longer term.

The CEC’s short-term chair since 2021, Giorgi Kalandarishvili, was never able to secure the votes of opposition lawmakers, leading to frequent changes to the electoral code to prolong his six-month tenures. In April of this year, Georgian Dream secured support from the opposition Girchi — New Political Centre to confirm Kalandarishvili for a full five-year tenure for the first time, in exchange for the ruling party’s support on amendments abolishing gender quotas on party electoral lists. 

A ‘referendum’

On 30 May, 80 lawmakers from the majority voted for the amendments, as opposition groups boycotted the parliament and major local rights groups scrambled to legally challenge the recently adopted foreign agent law. 

The controversial bill would label many rights and electoral observation groups as ‘organisations carrying out the interests of a foreign power’. 

October’s general elections come as the ruling Georgian Dream party has attacked opposition and civil society groups, seeking a fourth term in power. In light of the foreign agent law, the elections have gained additional significance, with the country’s President Salome Zourabichvili describing the elections as a ‘referendum’ on Georgia’s foreign policy course and future. 

[Read more: Georgian Dream overturns veto of foreign agent law]

Following the passing of the law, despite two months of protests, the focus of activists and campaigners is expected to shift to the general elections, with a number of groups already launching campaigns to mobilise voters and volunteer observers. 

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