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MPs Vote down Constitutional Amendment on Transition to Proportional Electoral System

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With 101 votes in favor, 3 against and 37 abstentions, the Georgian Parliament voted down the constitutional amendment envisaging transition to fully proportional electoral system from 2020. The amendment needed three fourths (113 of 150) of sitting lawmakers’ votes to pass the first hearing.

The ruling party backtracked on its key promise to Tbilisi Protests of June 2019 on transition to fully proportional electoral system. From 104 lawmakers representing Georgian Dream’s parliamentary majority, only 57 of them voted in favor, 37 abstained and 3 of them, Dimitri Khundadze, Enzel Mkoiani and Kakha Okriashvili voted against the bill.

All of 44 MPs from the opposition parties supported the amendment.

Protests are amassing outside the parliament building on Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare, dubbing the failure of passing the amendment as “the circus arranged by Bidzina Ivanishvili, [ruling party chairman].”

Ahead of today’s voting the parliamentary majority gathered at the Georgian Dream’s Office, where the ruling party members once again discussed the issue of transition to proportional electoral system.

Following the meeting, Georgian Dream majoritarian MP Dimitri Khundadze, who was one of those, who spoke out against amending the electoral system by the 2020 parliamentary elections, told reporters that “the majority finds a solution even in the most complicated situations; democracy has won and voting will be free.”  

Georgian Dream lawmaker, Gia Volski also commented on the issue, saying that despite differences within the team, he did not expect that the bill would be voted down.

Prior to the Parliament’s plenary session, a group of civil society organizations, including Transparency International Georgia, Georgian Young Lawyers Association and International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy held a joint news briefing today, and once again called on the Parliament to support transition to proportional electoral system.

“Today we are at a critical moment; our country has chosen transition to the parliamentary democratic system… if we want to have a European-style democracy, where one party is not dominating on all elective positions and is not an exclusive decision maker in the country, and if we want to establish a multi-partisan system, it is important to make this change,” Mikheil Benidze of ISFED said.

“Both the ruling party and opposition forces face an obligation to mobilize their forces and support the constitutional amendments,” Sulkhan Saladze, head of GYLA, said, adding that the public failed to hear even a single worthy argument that would have convinced it of the necessity of maintaining the mixed electoral model.

Commenting on the issue, Ambassador of the European Union, Carl Hartzell said that this is primarily the choice of the Georgian people and the political parties to move to the proportion electoral system. “Going back on this commitment at this stage would be seen as breaking the trust among the political parties, the trust with wider segments of the population, and to again increase the polarization in the run-up to the 2020 elections. I hope the parliament will take this into account in their vote later today,” he said.

Speaking at the government’s session today, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia said that “we have already stated our position and I will repeat it again that proportional election with a zero threshold was a kind will and decision of our political team, which was certainly a response to the urge for accelerated development of democratic process in the country. Nothing has changed to this end.”

Background

On June 24, the ruling party announced that parliamentary elections in 2020 will be fully proportional with zero threshold. The announcement followed a four-day protest in Georgia, triggered by the Russian delegation’s presence at a session of the Inter-parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy in the parliament’s plenary chamber on June 20. Holding of 2020 parliamentary elections through proportional party-lists was one of the main demands of protesters.

Earlier, on June 13, the opposition parties submitted the constitutional initiative on transferring to the proportional election system to the Parliament, but the ruling party insisted 2020 elections to be held under existing mixed (proportional and majoritarian) system and that fully proportional elections would be held from 2024.

On November 12, the Parliament of Georgia discussed the bills submitted by both the opposition and ruling parties. The opposition’s bill failed to garner enough votes and the ruling party-sponsored bill was postponed twice at the request of majoritarian MPs from the Georgian Dream party. 

Since the amendment fell short of needed 113 votes, the upcoming parliamentary elections will be held through mixed electoral system and onetime 3% threshold.

The President can dismiss the parliament and call for snap elections only if the Prime Minister resigns and the parliament does not approve the new one; or if the Prime Minister requests the vote of confidence and fails to get it.

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This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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