200 thousand citizens back opposition bid to change the election system
Over twenty opposition parties submitted more than 200 thousand citizens’ signatures to the parliament on June 13, calling for holding parliamentary elections through the proportional system starting from 2020, instead of 2024, as foreseen by the Constitution.
Opposition groups including the United National Movement (UNM), European Georgia, Free Democrats, the New Rights, the Republicans, and the Labour Party, have pledged to jointly campaign for this cause back in January 2019.
By law, a constitutional change can be initiated by no less than 200,000 citizens. Once the signatures are verified, the draft amendment to the Constitution is submitted to the Parliament, which publishes it for the public review and discussion. In one months time, the Parliament starts to debate the amendment, and may adopt it, if two-thirds of the elected members vote in favor.
Opposition representatives say the change is necessary to ensure that the elections are held in “fair and free environment”, and that the government should take heed the recommendations of its international partners as well as the express will of its citizens.
Politicians say the proportional vote evens the playing field that has been skewed towards the ruling parties by the majoritarian segment of the polls, which is usually swept by the ruling party of the moment. MP Sergi Kapanadze of the European Georgia argues that the proportional system ensures “more adequate distribution of mandates, and better reflects the public will.”
Tina Bokuchava of the UNM says if the law continues to allow “[GD leader Bidzina] Ivanishvili land 73 people of his choice into MP seats” other minor legislative tweaks would fail to make a dent into the Georgian Dream dominance.
Mamuka Katsitadze of the New Rights counts on a joint effort by the opposition, local and international organizations to make the ruling party concede.
Some civil society groups are backing the proposal. Sulkhan Saladze of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, an influential legal watchdog, also says one of the preconditions for ensuring the “fair election environment” in 2020 is to transfer to the fully proportional vote early.
This Speaker is not for turning
In the meantime, the Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze discussed electoral reforms today with his opponents both from within the parliament and without, as well as the local and international CSOs and the Chairperson of the Central Election Commission.
Asked about opposition’s initiative, the Speaker dismissed it as irrelevant, saying that this matter “has been already solved” by the new Constitution, which says every election – after 2020 – will be held under the fully proportional system.
Speaker Kobakhidze said the working group will focus instead on the recommendations issued by OSCE/ODIHR – an international election watchdog and expert group – after Georgia’s Presidential polls.
These recommendations call for establishing an effective and timely mechanism to address complaints on the misuse of administrative resources; suggest improvement of partisan balance in elections commissions at all levels; for ensuring efficient oversight and transparency of campaign finance; as well as for eliminating restrictions on standing and ensuring that voters cast their ballot free of fear of retribution. They also contain calls for acting more decisively against hate speech and xenophobia during the campaign.
Some opposition representatives threaten boycotting the working group, if the ruling party tries to keep the change of the election system in 2020 off the table.
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