‘Multi-member constituencies’ proposed as Georgian Dream– opposition talks restart

9 December 2019
The second round of talks between Georgian Dream and the opposition, on 8 December. Image via TV Pirveli.

As street protests continue in Georgia, the ruling Georgian Dream party has said they are ‘considering’ a proposal to introduce ‘multi-member constituencies’ to the electoral system. 

The opposition also said they would consider the proposal, which falls far short of the government’s promise in June to scrap individual constituencies and move to a fully proportional system.

Georgian Dream’s executive Secretary Irakli Kobakhidze told media following the latest negotiations on Sunday that the plan ‘did not call for constitutional changes’. 

Georgian Dream dismissed the opposition’s previous suggestion, moving to a ‘German model’, as incompatible with the current constitution.

Since the German model would have reformed, instead of abolishing the majoritarian aspect of the current system, opposition groups said they ‘expected’ Georgian Dream would be unable to reject the proposal by citing resistance from their majoritarian MPs.

Scrapping the majoritarian system altogether was something Georgian Dream chair Bidzina Ivanishvili personally vowed in mid-June after facing a wave of popular protests. The protests in June were sparked by a Russian Communist Party MP being invited to address parliament of Georgia.

Five months later, on 14 November, Georgian Dream failed to pass their own electoral reform package citing internal divisions and resistance from their own majoritarian MPs. 

Government critics have remained overwhelmingly sceptical of the claim, some calling it a ‘charade’ and a ‘mock rebellion’. Several leading MPs, including the heads of committees, left the ruling party over the U-turn.

What’s on the table 

On 8 December, the government and opposition groups returned to the negotiating table, brokered by Western diplomats in Georgia. 

Both sides confirmed after the talks that they had discussed the possibility of introducing a multi-mandate majoritarian system, which both sides agreed would not contradict the constitution. 

The opposition has continued to push for the adoption of a ‘German electoral model’. However, Davit Usupashvili, the leader of the opposition Development Movement, told journalists that they were ready to discuss other options if the government put forward proposals that would guarantee ‘proportional representation in the parliament’.

Georgian Justice Minister Thea Tsulukiani said discussing a multi-mandate majoritarian system within the current mixed electoral system was put forward by one of Georgia’s foreign partners. 

‘We need to look into the details. The opposition said the same — that they needed to discuss it internally and see whether or not that was suitable for them’, Tsulukiani said. 

Within the current system, 73 of Georgia’s 150 MPs are elected from 73 single-member constituencies. Under a multi-mandate majoritarian system, these would be replaced by fewer larger districts which would elect several MPs each proportionally. 

The chair of the opposition New Georgia party, Giorgi Vashadze, suggested under the proposed system there could be 10 but multi-mandate districts. He said there could be one district in Samegrelo, and the 7 candidates gaining the most votes would become MPs, as an example.

He said they were discussing the proposal while waiting for remarks from the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, on whether the ‘German Model’ would be compatible with Georgia’s constitution. 

‘The best system for Georgia’

As Georgian Dream convened in their office in downtown Tbilisi on Monday to discuss the latest proposal, protest groups For Freedom, Shetsvale (change), and Gabede (Dare!) protested outside, calling the meeting a ‘spectacle’.

Georgian Parliamentary Speaker Archil Talakvadze said they were discussing ‘how to prepare for 2020 parliamentary elections with the mixed electoral system in a way to maintain the proportional system, guaranteed by the constitution for 2024’.

He said that Georgian Dream was still divided on what kind of electoral system was best for Georgia. He also added that he was hopeful the party could change the mind of MPs from the party who support switching to a fully majoritarian system. 

MPs supporting a fully majoritarian system have already drafted a bill suggesting parliament should have two chambers, a lower chamber, the Council of the Republic, and an upper chamber — the Senate. Both would be elected under a fully majoritarian system, according to the proposals.

Georgia’s current constitution says the country will move to a two-chamber parliament ‘following the full restoration of Georgia’s jurisdiction throughout the entire territory of Georgia’, with the lower house being elected proportionally.

Continuing protests

Protests over the failure to pass Ivanishvili’s promised fully proportional system have continued throughout the country.

On 11 December, youth protest group For Freedom announced they would renew their ‘picketing’ of the parliament building.

Last week, several anti-government protesters were confronted by pro-government youth groups. From 1–3 December, protesters were attacked in Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Mtskheta, and Zugdidi.

A window of the UNM office in Zugdidi was smashed. Photo: LivePress.

Following clashes outside the Mayor’s Office in Mtskheta on 2 December, anti-government activists regrouped in the capital city. 

They gathered outside the ruling Georgian Dream’s office in downtown Tbilisi later that day to condemn the violence only to be confronted again by pro-government youth groups. 

Georgian Dream had organised transport for supporters from the regions in order to ‘attend a concert’.

The ensuing skirmish resulted in several injuries — five, according to opposition activists. The Interior Ministry did not make any arrests despite the violent attacks. 

Commenting on the incident a day later, Georgian Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri said: ‘There were 70–80 people fighting yesterday at the Georgian Dream office, should we have arrested them all?’

Georgian Dream has announced plans for a large rally on 14 December ‘to mark Georgia’s chairmanship of Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers’, the same reason given for the concert on 2 December. Georgian Dream supporters were expected to be transported to Tbilisi again for the occasion.

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