According to one Georgian proverb, “you will see the road after a wagon overturns”, which preaches that catastrophe has to occur for the new horizon to appear. Sometimes the problem we encounter is so huge and systemic that we are not able to look past it, therefore, its collapse is necessary to widen our vision. The crisis resulting from the 2020 parliamentary elections can be viewed in this light.
The substantive part of the opposition does not recognize the election results, refuses to enter the Parliament, and calls for snap elections, while the Government refuses to meet this demand. Not only the rump Parliament does not represent the diversity of the society, but it also excludes the majority of the voters who cast their ballots from the decision-making process. As a result, the political drama moved to the streets.
This is not an accident, things were moving in this direction for a long time and the political wagon overturned. This must help us see that we were standing at a crossroad. One way is the continuation of an old path, it takes us to the civil confrontation and a certain catastrophe. While the other will allow us to maintain the chance of civil cooperation and social development.
The basis, the weight, and a major challenge of Georgian politics are its rules. It is a zero-sum game. Majoritarianism is characteristic not only of our electoral system but of our politics as well.
In Georgia, participation in institutionalized politics only makes sense in the case and to the extent that there is the possibility to obtain the majority required for final decision-making.
The winner takes it all – this is the only rule of this game, which implies that participation in institutionalized politics only makes sense in the case and to the extent that there is the possibility to obtain the majority required for final decision-making. There are no other institutional mechanisms for influencing the political processes in governing the country.
This problem has its manifestations: the first is the electoral system (both at central and local levels); the second encompasses the parliamentary mechanisms; the third is the rule for the appointment of relevant persons on so-called independent (arbitrator) positions; the fourth is the electoral legislation.
When the logic of the street and institutionalized politics become identical, entering the legislative body without a majority becomes illogical.
Therefore, the rules of the institutionalized political game and street politics games are very much the same. Street politics does not recognize the nuance: you either fully win or completely lose. When the logic of the street and institutionalized politics become identical, entering the legislative body without a majority becomes illogical. The street remains the only arena for resistance.
- Electoral System
The purpose of the electoral system is to bring the mini-model of voters’ mindset to the legislative body. Like the map, on a reduced scale, reflects the territory, the Parliament must reflect the country’s existing political situation. The majoritarian component, as it is conceived in the context of the current party landscape, corrupts this reflection of the voters’ mindset. As a result, after the votes are converted into mandates, the composition of the chamber does not adequately reflect the political tastes of the voters.
The majoritarian component, as it is conceived in the context of the current party landscape, corrupts this reflection of the voters’ mindset.
If 2020 elections were held with a fully-proportional system (1% barrier), the ruling party would only have gained 77 mandates out of 150 instead of the 90 mandates they have today. This fragile majority would have hardly been enough for forming the government, appointing key officials (for instance, the Supreme Court judges, the Head of the State Security Service, Prosecutor General, etc.), and adopting the organic laws, and would not have been sufficient for appointing members of the High Council of Justice, the Public Defender and judges of the Constitutional Court. If this were the case, obviously the opposition would have had more incentives to enter the parliament and to make an effort to sway one or two members of the majority on specific, important votes.
The 2024 election is to be held with a fully proportional system, but with a 5% threshold. If the elections of October 31, 2020, were held with the system planned for 2024 elections, only “Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia” and “United National Movement – United Opposition” would have entered the Parliament. The first would have obtained 95 mandates, more than they have today. The number of “lost votes” (cast for the parties under the threshold) would have reached 20%, which would mean that every fifth voter would have been left without a representative. Georgia’s past electoral experience shows, that the higher threshold does not substantially change the voter behavior – people keep voting for smaller parties, even if they know they are unlikely to cross the threshold.
People keep voting for smaller parties, even if they know they are unlikely to cross the threshold.
The imposition of a higher threshold will make an already polarized environment even worse.
Although the system is formally proportional, its consequences will be more characteristic of majoritarianism and will force political actors to act within the logic typical for majoritarianism. This implies:
- Polarization: opponents will gradually deepen the gap between each other, to have mobilized their fringes and have more active voters, only leading to more flare-ups;
- Radicalization: Acting in accordance with the rule-oriented on reaching consensus rather than using force (if independent decision-making is possible, then there is no motive to reach an agreement with others).
Therefore, since the electoral system encourages the polity based on majoritarian principles, the opposition is not motivated to wait for a better chance and to improve their representation. The incremental growth in MP seats does not translate into more political influence. To them, the following four years will be wasted.
The opposition is not motivated to wait for a better chance and to improve their representation. The incremental growth in MP seats does not translate into more political influence.
Nothing is keeping them from waiting for the extraordinary elections to take place from the streets, even if they have to refuse to enter the Parliament, as there is nothing valuable left for them there. Therefore, one thing is clear, neither current nor the model of the 2024 elections tackles the challenge posed in front of us.
- Local Elections
In October 2021 local self-government elections should be held. In general, the parliamentary work is a good opportunity for the opposition to prepare for it, demonstrate its strengths and the Government’s weaknesses through its work. This will result in increasing its rating, which will increase its chances to win the elections at the municipal level. However, the opposition has no interest in this, and the existing system is the reason.
The opposition has almost no chance of winning the local elections.
The opposition has almost no chance to win the local elections, for the following systemic reasons:
First – over the last two decades the winning party of the parliamentary elections wins the local self-government elections in Georgia. The sooner municipal elections are held after the parliamentary elections, the greater is the chance of the ruling party to win. Therefore, the ordinary cycle is planned in such a way that the time between these two elections is 1 year, and the Parliamentary elections are held before the municipal elections.
Second – the electoral system of the local representative body – Municipal Assembly, is worse, than the past, current, or future Parliamentary electoral system. In 59 municipalities out of 64, the elections are held according to the following system: 15 members are elected through proportional rule (4% threshold), while the number of majoritarian MPs is not defined and depends on the number of communities and cities in the municipality. For example, Ozurgeti Municipality Assembly consists of 46 members; Zugdidi Municipality Assembly – of 50 members; Telavi – 32; and Akhaltsikhe – 33. The proportion of elected members through proportional and majoritarian rule in 4 self-governing cities is therefore 15/10, while in Tbilisi it is – 25/25.
Therefore, the electoral system on the local level is mainly majoritarian. The proportional component only serves to guarantee the opposition’s symbolic representation.
The proportional component in local elections only serves to guarantee the opposition’s symbolic representation, without real influence.
Even in the case of self-governing cities, where the difference between the number of MPs elected through proportional and majoritarian rule is minor, the system guarantees a disproportionate majority for the Georgian Dream.
Third – there is only one level of self-governance in Georgia, with the size of the self-governing community being much larger in Georgia than in the U.S. or the EU. This defeats the idea of self-governance – in such circumstances the local government substantially distances itself from the voters, thus losing the direct connection to them. But additionally, the central government finds it easier to control self-governments. It is easier to control 64 self-governments and to winning the elections there, than to directly control and win 300. The system prevents the development of the local political dynamics and jeopardizes political processes at this level.
Even the local governments are far from citizens – local constituencies are larger than in the US or EU. There is no elected regional body.
Fourth – there is no regional self-government in Georgia and the ruling party benefits primarily from it. Every additional election is an additional threat for the ruling party to lose. Holding fewer elections makes it easier to maintain power (or to lose it abruptly). Furthermore, the creation of a regional level of governance automatically means that the central government will have to redistribute its competencies and resources, which is not profitable for the ruling party.
Wnning the local government can not be used as a foundation for national victory.
Therefore, the system of current local self-government and its electoral system is designed to maintain and strengthen vertical governance. The opposition is not interested in this, as it cannot be used as a foundation for winning the elections – simply because they cannot succeed at this level.
- Parliamentary Mechanisms
Notwithstanding the recent legislative improvements, the benefits for the opposition parties for entering the Parliament are minimal. There is no possibility to hold the parliamentary debates on current issues at the actual time and the important parliamentary positions are fully locked by the majority. The existing tools, such as “Minister’s hour” and “Interpellation” are inflexible and insufficient.
The opposition has little chance to affect the parliament’s agenda. Important positions are locked up by the majority.
Although the former is conducted on monthly basis and sometimes several times per month, this happens according to the predetermined schedule, while the latter is held only four times a year. They provide minimal opportunity to summon the member of the Government to a plenary session to answer questions on current issues.
Chairs of all 15 committees are the representatives of the Majority, while out of Chair and Deputy chairs (in total 6 persons) of the Parliament only two represent the Minority. The interplay of these factors makes it impossible to implement the key principle of Parliamentarism – a political agenda is created by the opposition and the decision is made by the Majority. This thesis is one of the motivations that encourage the opposition to enter the Parliament. Nevertheless, the Georgian system rejects this approach.
- Rules for Appointment of Independent Officials
In order to agree on participation in the process, it is necessary to obtain the guarantees for impartial adjudication of disputes risen in this process. If only one party is authorized to compose an institution that is responsible for resolving the disputes, then this institution will never enjoy the confidence of others. The one who will be authorized to make a decision in case of dispute shall be selected based on consensus among the parties.
If only one party is authorized to compose an institution that is responsible for resolving the disputes, then this institution will never enjoy the confidence of others.
Today, the GD party has 90 MPs in Parliament. This means that the party can freely compose all such institutions. Based on the votes required for its staffing these institutes can be divided into two:
a. the ones that can be established by the absolute majority (76 votes) of votes: judges of the Supreme Court, Prosecutor General, the Head of the State Security Service; State Inspector; General Auditor; members of the CEC, etc.
b. the ones that require the qualified majority of votes (90 votes): 5 members of the High Council of Justice (out of 15); three judges of the Constitutional Court of Georgia (out of 9); and the Public Defender.
As noted above, the Georgian Dream does not require the approval of any other party for appointments to these positions; hence, they do not seek it.
If this is not required because of the electoral maths, then the tool shall be introduced that will place an obligation on the ruling party, irrespective of how many votes it has obtained, to seek approval among other electoral subjects in order to appoint the relevant candidate.
Some claim, that the consensus-oriented rule of appointment will lead to a deadlock, the Government and the opposition will never be able to agree, and consequently, these positions will remain vacant.
There is an opinion that there is no culture of consensus in Georgia, but when it was required by law or circumstances in the past, the compromise was reached.
There is an opinion that there is no culture of consensus in Georgia – we should assess this point of view critically. As noted above, the decision-making rule in Georgia is majoritarian. There are very few cases when authorities are forced to make a compromise and the available mandates are always sufficient for them.
However, when this is required the politicians manage to reach an agreement. For example, the 1990 electoral system was adopted by such agreement; this agreement served as a basis for adopting the Constitution in 1995; the system defined for 2020 was also the product of the agreement; in 2017, with the support of opposition the Parliament elected a member of the High Council of Justice and a Public Defender.
The legislative coercion of the Government and the opposition – to agree – is based on a belief that institutionalization of the consensus will result in consensus-oriented behavior. In such case, the motivation of the opposition to enter the Parliament will increase, as the value of their words will increase and in consequence, will the value of refusing the parliamentary life, which is currently minimal and cannot exceed the benefit, that the political parties expect from the streets.
- Election legislation
For the elections to be credible, they shall be held fairly. The electoral rules shall not provide additional benefits to an already dominant ruling party. This issue is unsolved in Georgia due to two factors. One is the rule of staffing of the election administration, which allows the ruling party to appoint 9 persons out of 12 loyal to them. This is already enough for the opposition to have doubts about the election process.
The above-mentioned reasons encourage the scenario of taking the action on the streets, as the mechanisms available to the opposition within the institutionalized politics are not sufficient to influence the political processes. At the meeting initiated by President of the European Council Charles Michel on 1 March, the parties discussed six issues on which negotiations shall continue.
Some of these points do not need further clarification as the demands of the opposition and the position of the Government are already clear (these issues are: political justice; holding the snap elections and continuing the mediation). The rest of the topics (electoral reform and preparation for elections, the judiciary, fair distribution of roles in the Parliament) require additional explanation. These issues have not been closed yet, it is not entirely clear what shall be their final formulation and specifically what shall be the subject of negotiations. Below I attempt to identify the 10 points that in my opinion are crucial in the process of transforming the existing majoritarian system into a consensus-oriented one. Evidently, not all of them will enter into force immediately, although it is essential for each to acquire legislative firmness.
- Every following election shall be held with a fully proportionate system, with a 1% threshold;
- The second regional level of the local self-government shall be established;
- The city, small town, community, the village shall be considered as the first level of the local self-government;
- The representative bodies of self-governments on both levels shall be staffed according to the proportional system;
- The members of the opposition and the Majority shall have equal representation in the Parliament leadership, the Deputy Speaker shall be from the opposition;
- The positions of Chairs of committees should be redistributed among the opposition and the Majority with the proportion according to their parliamentary representation;
- The establishment of “Question time” mechanism; This shall be held in the week of every plenary sitting; “Interpellation” must be conducted on monthly basis;
- The approval of the opposition in the appointment of independent officials shall be obligatory; The appointment of the same person on these positions for the second term shall be prohibited;
- The High Council of Justice shall make the decision on appointing the first and the second instance judges with double 2/3 (2/3 of judge-members of plus 2/3 of non-judge members) votes;
- The number of members of the CEC shall be decreased to 7 and become merit-based;
These rules will change the logic of Georgian politics, by transforming majoritarianism into consensual democracy. It will force the political actors to adapt their strategies to make politics cooperation-oriented and social peace-oriented.
Only an inclusive system makes progress possible: the defeated party is not excluded from the progress but becomes part of the process. This is the path that is clearly ahead of us after the heavy wagon of majoritarianism has turned over. We must use this opportunity, or hurtle off the cliff.
*footnotes Of course, this is a careful comparison. Change to electoral rules will likely change the behavior of both the parties and the voters. The threshold is an important electoral rule. If the threshold is high, it may encourage the parties to unite and the voters to vote for the bigger parties. If it is low – this will encourage the parties to disunite and the voters to support smaller parties. It may be true, but this factor alone cannot define anything. Many other factors influence the strategies of parties and voters. The elections held in Georgia demonstrate this.
The past three parliamentary elections in Georgia were held with a 5% threshold. E.g. in 2016 25 parties participated in the elections, while the number of lost votes was up to 20%; In 2012, 16 parties tried to enter the legislative organ, and the number of lost votes was up to 5%; in 2008, 12 parties participated in elections and number of lost votes was up to 7%; Prior to that, the elections in Georgia were held with 7% threshold. In 2004, 16 parties participated in elections, the number of lost votes was up to 27%. 18 parties participated in the elections of 2003 (the obtained percentages are irrelevant as the results were recognized as falsified by the court). In 1999, 45 parties participated in the elections, and more than 25% of votes were lost; elections of 1995 were held with a 5% threshold; 53 parties participated and more than 62% of votes were lost. In the 1992 elections, the threshold was 2%. There were 36 subjects in the ballot paper (the number of lost votes cannot be identified). 50 parties participated in the 2020 elections and lost votes exceeded 6%.
In 1995, elections were held with a 5% threshold and the same amount of parties participated as in 2020 with a 1% threshold. In 1999 (7% threshold) a little bit less. Neither in 1995 nor in 1999, imposed high threshold could not avoid the voters from voting for small parties. In 2016 with a 5% threshold – 25 parties tried to enter Parliament, while this number in 2012 and 2008 was 16 and 12 respectively. A high percentage did not have an impact on voters and 20% voted for small parties. In 2003 and 2004, when the 7% threshold was established, almost the same amount of parties participated in the elections as in 2016 and a little bit more than in 2012 (the threshold in the last two cases was 5%). The number of lost votes in 2004 exceeded the same indicator of 2016 and 2012 – i.e. despite the fact that the threshold was indicating to vote for bigger parties, the small parties were voted for. The reform of local self-government was carried out in Georgia in 2005, based on which 1004 self-governing units were reduced to 66. “The average population of the self-governing unit has increased from 4,354 to 66,235.” for more details see: Natia Lokhishvili, Zviad Mzhavanadze, “Local Self-governance in Georgia”. 1991-2014, The International Center for Civic Culture, Tbilisi, 2015.  In 2018 Georgia has made wide-scale amendments to the Constitution and the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament, which gave the Parliamentary opposition several important but not fully sufficient tools for parliamentary oversight and consequently, the influence on political processes within the Parliament. The newest study, which evaluates this reform and its implementation, was published by the end of October and belongs to GYLA. The study found more than 60 (sic!) institutional flaws, which prevent the opposition to effectively use its supervisory function in the legislative body. The Study “Parliamentary Oversight After the reform of the Constitution and the Rules of Procedure” (Authors: Vakhushti Menabde, Giorgi Alaverdashvili, Tornike Gerliani, Ana Jabauri, Nikoloz Odikadze. GYLA publishing, Tbilisi, 2020) More details available at https://bit.ly/2J9gHK9.  “რადიო თავისუფლებისთვის ცნობილი გახდა ორბელიანის სასახლეში განხილული 6 საკითხი,” Radio Tavisufleba, 02 March 2021, ხელმისაწვდომია: https://cutt.ly/ulBmNjq, განახლებულია: 02.03.2021.
 This procedure defined for the independent officials in the above-noted paragraph shall imply the current judges as well.