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OSCE/ODIHR on Opposition-proposed Amendments to Georgia’s Election Code

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On February 5, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) publicized its opinion over the opposition-proposed draft amendments to the election code of Georgia, which was prepared at the request of the Public Defender Nino Lomjaria.

According to ODIHR, on December 4, 2019 a group of 29 Georgian MPs initiated a new proposal to amend the election code, envisioning a system in which instead of the two-round system in single-mandate constituencies, 73 members of parliament would be elected from multi-mandate constituencies for the upcoming parliamentary elections due to take place in 2020.

Voters would cast one vote and candidates with the most votes would obtain seats. The remaining 77 members of parliament would be elected through a closed list system.

In contrast to the current mixed system, the distribution of seats in the proportional component would be linked to the performance in the multi-mandate constituencies. The stated aim of the proposed system is to deliver a more proportional outcome between the votes cast and the number of seats won.

ODIHR stated in its opinion that, “while acknowledging ongoing discussions with respect to the constitutionality of the proposed amendments as well as emphasizing that it is up to the national courts to make a final judgement on constitutionality of the legislation, this opinion covers the amendments submitted for review and analyses them against relevant international obligations and standards, including OSCE commitments, as well as international good practice with the aim to identify any shortcomings and make recommendations for consideration prior to the potential adoption of the legislation.”

The choice of the electoral system is a sovereign decision of the state, so long as the chosen electoral system is consistent with the state’s obligations under international law. International standards do not prescribe the choice of electoral systems,” ODIHR said in its opinion.

It also noted that “the choice of an electoral system, whether it should be a majoritarian, proportional, hybrid, or alternative system, should be subject to a broad inclusive debate which allows relevant stakeholders to bring forward positive and negative effects of the reform,” and “any proposed changes have to be carefully considered, including their adoption by a large consensus among political parties.”

ODIHR further wrote that the draft proposes changes “in the fundamental elements of electoral law, including the electoral system,” and that the proposed amendments “do not introduce changes affecting compliance with the principles of universal, free, secret and direct suffrage, as well as periodic elections.”

International good practice recommends that key aspects of electoral legislation not be open to amendment less than one year before an election. The change would be implemented by amendments to the organic law, which according to the Constitution, can be changed by a simple majority of votes in the parliament,” it noted as well.

In light of international standards and good practices, ODIHR made the following recommendations to enhance the proposed amendments:

  • Amend the provision on how voters are required to mark the ballot to ensure that ballots where the will of the voter is clearly expressed are not considered invalid;
  • Reconsider the provision that disregards the votes for the party lists of voters who voted in favor of a winning independent candidate in the majoritarian race in that district;
  • Ensure the deadline for the Central Election Commission (CEC) to summarize final election results does not go beyond the period necessary for this purpose and is in line with deadlines for election disputes;
  • Revisit the method for selecting the sub-district in which by-elections will be held to provide a politically neutral mechanism;
  • Undertake analysis and, if necessary, include additional provisions to ensure as equal distribution of seats between the new multi-member constituencies as possible;
  • Review the draft law to omit provisions which are not being amended, clarify which provisions are replaced, and ensure consistency of the amendments with the current provisions of the Election Code.

If a decision is made to further develop this draft, ODIHR, among others, recommended undertaking analysis and, if necessary, including additional provisions to ensure as equal distribution of seats between the new multi-member constituencies as possible.

In mid-November 2019, the Georgian Parliament voted down the constitutional amendment envisaging transition from current mixed electoral system to fully proportional one from 2020, instead of 2024. The ruling Georgian Dream party backtracked on its key promise to Tbilisi Protests: while all of 44 MPs of opposition parties supported the bill, Georgian Dream’s three lawmakers voted against the amendment and 37 abstained, making it fall 12 votes short of needed 113 votes (two-thirds of sitting 150 MPs).

Following weeks of protests and rising political tensions in Tbilisi and all across Georgia, the ruling party and opposition first met on November 30, upon the initiative of foreign diplomats accredited in Georgia and international partners, aiming at reaching a consensus over amending the electoral system, but the first, as well as all of the following meetings proved unsuccessful.

For more background, follow our tag on 2020 polls

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

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