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Opposition Targets Election Rules

Political parties in Georgia are trying to establish the rules of the game ahead of the 2008 parliamentary elections, but no agreement is yet foreseen.
The Opposition have three major demands: a change in the rule regulating the composition of the election commissions; a change in the rule governing the majoritarian election system; and a reduction of the 7% election threshold. The ruling National Movement party has agreed to consider only the last demand.
‘Winner Takes All’
Fifty new lawmakers, out of a total 150, will be elected through a majoritarian system in the 2008 parliamentary elections. This will be a first-past-the-post, “winner takes all” system.

Tbilisi will be a five-seat constituency. The party with the biggest share of the vote in the capital will get all five seats. A similar rule operated in last year’s local elections.

Opposition politicians have complained that the system is undemocratic, as it effectively means that the ruling party will take all 50 majoritarian seats in the parliament.

“It can be expected that the ruling party and the combined opposition parties will receive roughly the same vote. But because the opposition’s votes will be distributed among various parties and none of them separately will be able to garner more votes than the ruling party, all majoritarian seats will go to the National Movement,” MP Kakha Kukava of the opposition Conservative Party told Civil.Ge.

The opposition wants to allow voters to cast their ballots for individual candidates, rather than for parties, which would give them a chance of winning in the majoritarian system.

The ruling party, however, is reluctant to consider this proposal.

“There is nothing undemocratic in this system,” MP Giga Bokeria of the ruling party told Civil.Ge.

He said that the system was designed to encourage the parties to merge, or to form coalitions ahead of the polls, which, he said, would be a positive development.

Election Administrations

Currently, the central and district election commissions are composed of certified election officials, who should be unaffiliated with any of the political parties. Only the precinct election commissions are composed of representatives from political parties.

The opposition, however, claims that the central and district election commissions are in fact under government control. They want to be able to nominate members to balance out this perceived advantage.

“We think that the commission at all levels should be composed of certified officials, but ones who are representatives of the political parties,” MP Katsitadze said.

The ruling party is strongly against this proposal, describing it as “a step back,” which would result in the commission becoming “a place for political wrangling.”

“This current system has proved to be the one which can guarantee free and fair elections,” MP Bokeria said.

Election Threshold
The only issue the ruling majority plans to compromise on is a proposal to reduce the 7% election threshold.

“We are ready to discuss this issue,” MP Bokeria said.

“The threshold should not be more than 5%,” MP Katsitadze says.

The opposition is against a proposal to introduce “differentiated thresholds.”

The proposal envisages setting a higher threshold for election blocs and a lower one for individual parties outside of a coalition arrangement.

Elections Date

The timing of elections is also controversial.

Presidential and parliamentary elections, in line with a recent constitutional amendment, will be held simultaneously sometime between October and December 2008. It is up to President Saakashvili to set the exact date for the polls.

The opposition, however, wants the date to be set in accordance with the election code, rather than by the president.

“It is of a huge importance in an election campaign to know the date of the elections in advance. Giving the president the right to select the date means giving a huge and unfair advantage to the ruling party. In order to have equal conditions, every party should know in advance when the elections will be held,” MP Kukava of the opposition Conservative party said.

A working group, uniting representatives of political forces in Parliament, as well as others from the Labor Party, election watchdog organizations and the chairman of the Central Election Commission, Guram Chalagashvili, is trying to reach a consensus on the election code.

MP Mamuka Katsitadze, who is a member of the group, said that the opposition would boycott the group if the ruling party didn’t give up its “uncompromising stance” on the opposition’s major demands.


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