Lawmakers from the Republican Party have put forth electoral amendments, backed by the opposition parties, designed to secure proportionality in distributing seats in the Parliament in the condition of maintaining mixed electoral system of party-list and majoritarian contests.
The Parliament has already debated on two rival constitutional bills on electoral system reform. Both of them – one proposed by the GD parliamentary majority group and another one initiated by parliamentary and non-parliamentary opposition parties – envisage scrapping of the majoritarian component of the electoral system, but the main difference is over timing of the reform. The opposition-backed bill proposes to carry out the reform immediately, ahead of the parliamentary elections, scheduled for October 8, and GD-backed bill offers to apply the reform for the post-2016 elections. The bills have not yet been put on vote in the Parliament. The opposition-backed bill envisaging carrying out reform ahead of the October poll is doomed to fail as it is not supported by the ruling GDDG party.
Georgia currently has a mixed system in which 73 lawmakers are elected in 73 single-member constituencies, known in Georgia as “majoritarian” mandates (a candidate has to win over 50% of votes in order to be an outright winner otherwise a second round should be held), and rest 77 seats are allocated proportionally under the party-list contest among political parties, which clear 5% threshold. It implies that voters can cast two ballots – one for a party in a nationwide vote and another for a specific candidate in a respective single-member constituency.
This mixed electoral system can potentially result in distribution of seats in Parliament different from those reflected in party-list, nationwide popular vote.
Although it’s not a case in the sitting Parliament elected in 2012, difference between distribution of seats and votes received in party-list contest was obvious in the previous Parliament, when then ruling UNM party was holding over 79% of seats although receiving slightly over 59% of votes in 2008 parliamentary elections. That was because UNM at the time won all but four majoritarian mandates.
Mismatch was even bigger in the 2014 local elections for Tbilisi City Council (Sakrebulo), where a similar system is applied, when although receiving 46% of votes in party-list contest, Georgian Dream (GD) coalition gained 74% of seats in Tbilisi Sakrebulo because of winning all but one single-mandate, majoritarian constituencies in the capital city. UNM won 26.1% of votes, but its candidates failed in all single-mandate constituencies and as a result it gained only 7 seats, representing 14% of overall seats in Tbilisi Sakrebulo.
The Republican Party-proposed bill aims to address potential disparity that may emerged between the share of votes a party receives in nationwide vote and actual number of seats the same party gets in the Parliament. This rule was first proposed by the opposition back in 2011, but it was rejected by then ruling party, UNM, which is now in the opposition and which now backs the proposal.
According to the bill, drafted by Republican MP Vakhtang Khmaladze, chair of legal affairs committee, if a party gains more seats than it is entitled to based on share of votes received in party-list contest, this party would retain all the majoritarian mandates, but its overall mandates will be reduced at the expense of cutting its party-list mandates to the level that would be proportional to share of its votes in national wide popular vote.
For example, if this rule had been in place in 2014 local elections, the GD would have fallen short of majority seats in the Tbilisi Sakrebulo; the GD would have retained all of its 24 majoritarian seats, but its number of party-list mandates would have been reduced so that to match its overall seats in the Sakrebulo with share of votes (46%) it received in proportional, party-list contest. Mandates cut from GD party-list mandates would have been allocated proportionally to other parties, which cleared electoral threshold.
Although the GDDG ruling party is highly unlikely to support the bill, the proposal still has a theoretical chance of receiving 76 votes, a minimum required for it to be passed. But it will be very difficult for backers of the bill – among them Republican Party, UNM, Free Democrats, National Forum – to endorse the proposal as their number in the Parliament falls short of 76 and they will need to attract support of some independent lawmakers or members from Conservative or Industrialists parties, which at this stage appears to be less likely.