Opposition Threatens to Boycott Locals, as Parliament Passes New Rule on Electing City Council, Mayor

Several opposition parties officially announced on June 23 that they will boycott local self-governance elections scheduled for autumn, 2006 after the Parliament passed, with its first hearing, the government-backed new rule for electing Tbilisi’s Mayor and City Council (Sakrebulo). This decision by the Parliament has also triggered the opposition parties, both those which have seats in the Parliament and those without mandates in the legislative body, to boost their cooperation.

The proposal envisages the election of the 25 members of the City Council through a first-past-the-post, “winner takes all” system, while the remaining 12 seats will be distributed, through so called a “compensatory list,” among those parties which garner at least 4% of votes in all ten constituencies of the capital city. The 37-member elected City Council will then elect the Tbilisi Mayor from among its members.  The candidate will have to win at least 2/3 of the total votes in the council.

Giga Bokeria, an influential MP from the ruling National Movement party, who presented this draft law, claimed during the debates in the Parliament on June 23 that the proposed rule is “a perfect mix” of so called majoritarian and proportional party-list election systems, which, on one hand, will make individually elected City Council members personally responsible before their constituents and, on the other hand, the system will leave space for those parties which will fail to win in the first-past-the-post system, as the rule also envisages the so-called “compensatory list.”

But the opposition, which fears that this new system will enable only the ruling National Movement party to occupy seats in the Tbilisi City Council, claims that the “compensatory list” was proposed just to “create the illusion of democracy.”

“The 25 members, who will be elected through this [first-past-the-post] system, make-up 2/3 of the 37-member City Council; so during the elections of the Mayor, the remaining 12 votes of the City Council members will make no difference at all,” MP Mamuka Katsitadze of the New Rights party said at the session on June 23.

Before voting on this new rule for electing the Mayor and City Council, the Parliament rejected a draft law introduced by the opposition New Rights parliamentary faction which envisaged direct elections of the Tbilisi Mayor.

Legislators from the opposition parties made separate announcement at the parliamentary session on June 23 about their plans to boycott the 2006 local elections shortly after the government-backed proposal was passed.

“This is a law which will lead to a one-party dictatorship and we prefer not to participate in these [local elections],” MP Davit Gamkrelidze, leader of the parliamentary group which unites two parties the New Rights and the Industrialists, said at the parliamentary session on June 23.
“We will not participate in the local elections either; the same decision has been taken by the Freedom party,” MP Koba Davitashvili, the leader of Conservative party stated at the parliamentary session.

“The Labor Party sees no reason to participate in these elections,” MP Temur Doishvili from the Labor Party said at the parliamentary session.
Leader of the Republican Party MP Davit Berdzenishvili said that the adoption of this new rule for electing the Tbilisi City Council and Mayor “is a step towards a political confrontation.” But the Republicans plan to participate in local elections.

Some non-governmental groups, including the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) and International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) also expressed protest regarding this new rule on June 23.

The opposition parties are now calling for closer cooperation with each other in an attempt to develop a joint action plan. “It is clear that the time has come for uniting our forces in order to counter the government’s anti-democratic steps,” Bachuki Kardava, the leader of National-Democratic Party, said on June 24.

“I think, we should set up a coordination council, which will not mean the unification of the opposition parities, but which will help to coordinate our joint actions,” Giorgi Gugava from the Labor Party said on June 24.

Some observers say that the problem is not only about the rule of electing Tbilisi’s Mayor and City Council. “Although this [method of election] is also a very important issue – the problem is that the government has not yet presented a comprehensive strategy on how it sees the development of self-governance in Georgia,” says Davit Losaberidze from the think-tank Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development.


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