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Georgian Dream, Opposition Resume Electoral Reform Talks, Albeit Informally

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Following the U.S. Embassy to Georgia, on February 27, the EU Delegation to Georgia hosted ruling Georgian Dream party and the opposition representatives at an informal meeting aimed to reach consensus over electoral system reform.

This is the second attempt by the ruling party and the opposition to get back to negotiating table after the latter quit foreign-mediated official electoral reform talks in response to imprisonment of Gigi Ugulava, one of the leaders of opposition European Georgia party on February 10.

Prior to Georgian opposition’s February 10 decision, the latter and the Georgian Dream held four unsuccessful rounds of foreign-mediated meetings. The talks commenced in the end of November 2019, following Georgian Dream’s November 14 decision to downvote promised constitutional amendment that would transfer the country’s mixed electoral system to fully proportional one from 2020, instead of 2024.

Giorgi Vashadze, leader of New Georgia party, was the first to quit the today’s meeting, telling reporters that Georgian Dream offered opponents to hold the 2020 parliamentary elections under 110/40 formula, envisaging the next parliament to be composed of 110 lawmakers elected through proportional party-lists and 40 MPs as majoritarians. Vashadze said that the concept is not acceptable for the opposition.

The ruling party members said, however, that no concrete figures were discussed at the today’s meeting. Ex-speaker Irakli Kobakhidze, Georgian Dream’s executive secretary, noted that the meeting did not aim at negotiating on the electoral system. He denied Giorgi Vashadze’s remarks about 110/40 principle.

“We discussed various issues, including electoral reform and, naturally, since it was not the format of negotiations, we did not put forward [an idea] that opposition [reacted to] or vice versa … Meetings in this [unofficial] format will promote reaching an eventual agreement on electoral system,” he told reporters.

“[This meeting] is a step forward in order to hold another meeting and agree on key issues during the next [phase of] dialogie. We, as the government, will do our utmost to agree on fair [electoral] principles,” Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze said after the meeting.

The opposition politicians said that to resume [official] negotiations with the ruling party, Georgian Dream should stop political persecution of opponents and adopt an electoral model, which will be as much in line with the fully proportional system as possible.

“I do not have any expectation that first [Georgian Dream chairman Bidzina] Ivanishvili and then his political spokespersons and clowns will change their positions,” Giga Bokeria of European Georgia told reporters.

During the last round of official talks in December, the ruling party offered the opposition to hold the parliamentary elections through the mixed electoral system, using a 100/50 formula, envisaging increase of proportional mandates from current 77 to 100, and the reduction the number of majoritarian seats from current 73 to 50. Speaker Talakvadze then hailed the mixed electoral system as “democratic and balanced,” and stated that “the compromise” should be adopted not only for 2020, but the future parliamentary polls as well. The proposal was criticized by the opposition representatives.

Meanwhile, the opposition now voiced an idea of holding October 2020 polls under the so called 40% model, meaning that no party that fails to garner 40% or more votes should be able to create the majority in the Parliament or form the government on its own. As one of the options, the opposition offers increasing proportional mandates up to 130 and decreasing majoritarian mandates to 20.

As thing stands, the opposition plans to hold a protest rally on Tbilisi’s main Rustaveli Avenue on April 4, where they will unveil a joint action plan for the upcoming parliamentary polls in October. According to media reports, opposition representatives are actively holding consultations to jointly put forward single candidates for majoritarian races both in Tbilisi and the regional single-mandate constituencies.

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