Parliament of Georgia approved the planned changes to the Constitution of Georgia at a plenary session today. The final results of voting was 115 in favour and 0 against. Opposition factions in parliament did not attend the hearing, in a sign of protest.
The Movement for Liberty - European Georgia party, which is the largest opposition faction in parliament, has been criticizing the planned changes, specifically regarding changes to electoral systems. They have demanded to hold a plebiscite on these changes and ask the public what they think.
European Georgia MPs Sergo Ratiani and Elene Khoshtaria brought 150,000 citizens’ signatures to the Chancellery of Georgia on June 20 supporting the demand to hold the plebiscite.
“This is the document which stands solely on the consensus within the Georgian Dream,” European Georgia leader Davit Bakradze said on June 21, regarding the proposed constitutional changes.
The opposition Patriots’ Alliance also boycotted the discussions in parliament on the planned constitutional changes. The party’s leader, Irma Inashvili, stated that the party is ready to start cooperating with European institutions on how to fix the system, and also to prepare themselves for demonstrations in protest. Inashvili has also called upon former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the Georgian Dream party, to get involved, as “[Prime Minister] Kvirikashvili and his like-minded people are usurping the government,” she said. Inashvili also called on the prime minister to resign from his post.
According to the planned changes to the electoral system, the parliamentary elections in 2020 will be held with a mixed electoral system, the same system Georgia has now. The ruling Georgian Dream party only plans on abolishing the majoritarian system for the 2024 elections. The change that will be implemented for 2020 is a switch from a 5% threshold to enter parliament, to a 3% threshold.
A coalition of NGOs in Georgia, including the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), and Transparency International Georgia, have issued an official statement saying that “by keeping the mixed electoral system, the ruling party is trying to create guarantees which will help them gain privileges in the 2020 elections.” The NGOs also criticized that the constitutional changes were “decided on by one party behind closed doors.”
The Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia, Irakli Kobakhidze, has previously denied such allegations that the ruling party is trying to guarantee an advantage.
“The guarantee for that is the 3% threshold system. I exclude the possibility that the Georgian Dream enters the parliament with 116 MPs again,” he said.
The parliamentary chairman has said they are holding consultations regarding how exactly Georgia will switch to the proportional system from 2024.
According to an initial proposal by the Constitutional Commission, the Majoritarian system would be abolished and the victorious party would receive the remaining mandates that are left unclaimed by parties that did not pass the 5% threshold required to enter parliament. The winning party would therefore secure more MPs in Parliament than the amount voted for by citizens.
The Venice Commission’s report on Georgia’s proposed constitutional changes said that the 5% threshold, together with other mechanisms in the system, “limit[s] the effects of the proportional system to the detriment of smaller parties and pluralism” and “deviate[s] from the principles of fair representation and electoral equality.”
Currently Georgia has a mixed electoral system. At the polling station, citizens cast one vote for a majoritarian candidate running in their district, and a second vote for a national party list. Seventy-seven seats in the parliament are distributed amongst the parties according to the proportion of list votes they receive. Parties must pass a minimum threshold of 5% of the vote in order to win seats in the parliament.
The ruling party has also been criticized for planned changed regarding the system for presidential elections in Georgia. In their new version of the constitution, citizens will not be able to directly elect the President, who will instead be elected by an electoral college of 300 electors. The changes also suggest the abolition of the President’s deliberation body, the National Security Council, and creating a Security Council instead, which will function only during emergency military situations.