A measure to implement a promised change to Georgia’s electoral system has failed to get the necessary 75% majority in Parliament as a significant number of governing party Georgian Dream MPs failed to back the move. Opposition and civil society activists are up in arms and more protests may be on the way.
It’s rare that people take to the streets to protest in favour of electoral reform and rarer still that a government actually feels threatened by such protests. But that’s what happened in Georgia over the summer and it resulted in a promise by Georgian Dream to change to a fully proportional voting system from the current mixed system.
The proposal was to do away with the majoritarian (First-Past-the-Post) element and have all 150 MPs elected from a party list system with coalitions banned and no threshold. To pass, the measure needed the support of at least 113 of the 150 MPs.
When it came to voting, just 57 of the 106 Georgian Dream MPs backed the move with many of the 93 who had proposed it voting against. The opposition has suggested this was a stitch up. In total, there were 101 votes in favour and 3 opposed – all Georgian Dream MPs. All opposition and independent MPs backed the change.
Minutes after the vote, seven Georgian Dream MPs who voted for the bill announced they had left the parliamentary majority in protest, including Vice-Speaker and member of Georgian Dream’s political council Tamar Chugoshvili.
As soon as the decision was announced, protesters began gathering outside parliament, with a larger demonstration planned for the evening. There was a minor confrontation with police after protesters attempted to block the road outside parliament as MPs were departing.
“Transitioning to a fully-proportional electoral system was a key concession made by the government in the wake of mass protests in the capital in June.
Thousands took to the streets on 20 June, after Russian MP Sergei Gavrilov was invited to address parliament from the speaker’s tribune. A violent dispersal of a demonstration outside parliament the following day led to further protests.
Thousands continued to protest outside parliament for weeks after, forcing the resignation of Parliamentary Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze.
Reacting to the vote, Shota Dighmelashvili, one of the leaders of the youth-led For Freedom group, which spearheaded protests following 20 June, wrote on Facebook urging people to again take to the streets.”
The next Parliamentary elections in Georgia are due to take place in 2020. As things stand, it appears the system used will not be changing. At the last elections in 2016, Georgian Dream won 71 of the 73 constituency seats and 44 from the list element on 48% of the overall vote. Two opposition parties secured the remainder of the list seats whilst one minor party and one independent candidate won the remaining constituencies.