Georgia proposes move to list based elections with no threshold in bid to end protests

Georgia’s ruling party has said that it will move to change national elections to a purely list based system in a bid to stop protests which have gripped the country.

The current system is a mixed one with 73 MPs elected from single member constituencies in a two round system where the winner needs more than 50% support. In addition, 77 MPs are elected through a national list with a 5% threshold. The lists seats are allocated purely on the basis of the proportional vote and do not take account of constituency seats won. This system was only put in place before the elections in 2012 and opponents believe it gives a disproportionate advantage to the ruling party which holds 115 of the 150 seats on 48% of the vote.

The next elections in Georgia are due in 2020 and Bidzina Ivanishvili, the head of the ruling Georgian Dream party, has said that that no threshold should be applied to the list system. Abolishing a threshold would encourage small parties and create a fractured parliament with many different factions. It is a move likely to favour strong coherent government parties and enable them to keep control even if they see a drop in overall support. Had the 2016 election been held on a pure list vote with no threshold then there would likely have been ten factions elected to Parliament rather than the current four (and just two factions gained representation in the 2012 elections).

However protesters have said that this concession is not enough for them to end their action. They are calling for the interior minister to step down as well as the release of those arrested on June 20th – the first night of protests. 

There is also anger directed against Russia after a visit by Russian politicians during the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy. Russia continues to have troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two areas recognised by the majority of the international community as Georgian territory.

Contours of Conflict and Prognosis in the Eastern Neighbourhood by James Nixey, Head, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Chatham House

James Nixey, the head of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, has written a paper on the so-called frozen conflicts in Eastern Europe – Nagorno Karabakh, Transnistria, Georgia and Ukraine – and what the west might do to edge towards resolutions.

His central tenet is that Russia bears a large responsibility for the conflicts and, together with the actors themselves, must take the lead in resolutions. But, he argues, the west should be taking actions including expelling recalcitrant states from membership of various bodies as well as seeking to inspire solutions. He concludes:

The best the West can do in the meantime is to stop over promising and under-delivering (and ideally do the reverse)

I’m not sure I agree completely with James’ suggestions. For instance I think expelling countries from organisations might be to final a move. But it is worthy of a read for anyone interested in the on-going conflicts.

Voters in Georgia’s presidential election had a genuine choice and candidates campaigned freely, but on an unlevel playing field, international observers say

OSCE/ODIHR have released their preliminary statement on the Georgian Presidential Election. I have copied the summary below and you can find the full report here.

The election was competitive and professionally administered. Candidates were able to campaign freely and voters had a genuine choice, although there were instances of misuse of administrative resources, and senior state officials from the ruling party were involved in the campaign. Substantial imbalance in donations and excessively high spending limits further contributed to an unlevel playing field. While public broadcasters provided all candidates a platform to present their views, the sharp polarization of the private media, negative campaigning and harsh rhetoric, and lack of analytical reporting limited voters’ ability to make a fully informed choice. Legal changes that increased the representation of the ruling party at all election administration levels and the insufficient transparency in the selection of non-partisan members undermined the perception of impartiality. Nevertheless, election day generally proceeded in a professional, orderly and transparent manner, despite some procedural issues during counting, as well as many citizen observers and media acting on behalf of political parties and party supporters potentially influencing voters outside polling stations.

The legal framework provides an adequate basis for the conduct of democratic elections. The 2017 and 2018 amendments to the election code introduced a number of technical improvements. However, certain shortcomings remain and recent amendments were a missed opportunity to engage broadly and address a number of other prior ODIHR and Council of Europe recommendations or eliminate gaps and inconsistencies.

Elections were managed professionally by three levels of administration, led by the Central Election Commission (CEC) who enjoyed the confidence of most electoral stakeholders and made concerted efforts to increase the competence of lower-level commissions. In the absence of adequate regulation by the CEC, the selection of non-partisan lower-level commission members lacked consistency and transparency.

Over 3.5 million citizens were registered to vote. Authorities made commendable efforts to improve the accuracy of the voter list and election commissions gave voters ample opportunity to verify their information. Most stakeholders expressed confidence in the accuracy of the voter lists.

The candidate registration process was transparent and inclusive. In total, 25 candidates were registered, 16 from political parties and 9 independent. However, credible indications that databases of voter data were available for purchase and the absence of an effective mechanism for checking the authenticity of support signatures diminished the genuineness of the nomination process. The campaign showed that a significant number of candidates registered for the purpose of using their public funding and free airtime to support other contestants giving them an unfair advantage.

While fundamental freedoms were generally respected and contestants were able to campaign freely, ODIHR EOM observed several disruptions of campaign events and multiple instances of vandalised party offices or campaign materials. The campaign was dominated by controversial topics polarizing public opinion, negative campaigning and harsh rhetoric between the ruling and one of the opposition parties. Concerns were raised about the collection of personal data of voters and the pressure this practice imposes. Instances of the misuse of administrative resources were observed. Further the

involvement of senior state officials from the ruling party in the campaign was not always in line with the law and blurred the line between the state and the party.

Party and campaign finance legislation lacks uniformity, and recent legislative amendments did not address longstanding ODIHR and Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) recommendations. The law provides for private funding for all candidates and public funding for those nominated by parties. The lack of regulation for obtaining loans for campaign expenses and reporting on the use of these funds potentially contributes to the imbalance of the playing field. The State Audit Office verified and promptly published reports before the election. However, despite increased efforts, the lack of clear deadlines for addressing violations and the institution’s insufficient resources raised concerns about the effectiveness of campaign finance oversight. Substantial imbalance in donations and excessively high spending limits did not contribute to a level playing field.

Insufficient issue-oriented debate, shallow coverage of the campaign and the lack of analytical reporting by sharply polarized media limited the possibility for voters to make a fully informed choice. While the law provides free airtime only for certain party-nominated candidates, both public national broadcasters decided to provide all candidates the same amount of free airtime and hosted numerous debates that gave them a platform to present their views. The media regulator did not always display a transparent and impartial approach when intervening in the campaign. Media monitoring results showed clear bias in the coverage by many private media.

Overall, complaints and appeals were handled by election administration and courts in an open and transparent manner within legal deadlines. The complexity of the electoral dispute resolution system, the limited right to file complaints and appeal certain decisions, as well as the lack of sufficient legal reasoning in decisions, limited the effective resolution of disputes, at odds with international commitments and standards. Various ODIHR EOM interlocutors expressed a lack of confidence in the effectiveness of the complaint adjudication system.

The Election Code provides for observation of the entire election process by citizen and international organizations, as well as representatives of election contestants, and the accreditation process was inclusive and professionally managed. During the pre-election period citizen observer groups faced intense verbal attacks on their work and representatives by high ranking members of the ruling party and senior public officials. Still, the observation efforts of established citizen observer organizations contributed to the transparency of the process.

Election day generally proceeded in a professional, orderly and transparent manner. However, the frequent presence of a large number of party supporters, often with lists of voters, noting who was coming to vote raised concerns about the ability of voters to vote free from pressure and fear of retribution. Voting was assessed positively, although those citizen observers and media who acted on behalf of political parties negatively impacted the process. The assessment of counting was less positive due to procedural problems, some cases of interference and an increase in tensions.