Ruling Georgian Dream party lawmakers are fast-tracking changes to Parliamentary Rules of Procedure, amending the EU-brokered anti-deadlock mechanism for appointing Central Election Commission chairperson and members.
If approved with three hearings, the change would be another deviation from the April 19 deal between the GD and the opposition.
As per existing rules, introduced in June following the compromise deal, the CEC chair and members are to be elected with a 2/3 supermajority. If the vote is unsuccessful, another vote is held with the same threshold no earlier than four weeks. If the lawmakers fail to again elect the candidates, subsequent votes shall require first a 3/5 majority and then a simple majority, to be held within the same timeframe.
If the new rules are adopted, the CEC chair and members can be elected immediately with a simple majority if the first 2/3 vote fails. There won’t be a minimum time period for the votes anymore either.
According to existing rules, when the CEC chair and members are elected through the anti-deadlock mechanism, with less than 2/3 votes, they serve a temporary six-month term instead of the regular five years. This provision will remain unaffected with the changes.
The current chair Giorgi Kalandarishvili and two “professional” members were appointed in August with the mechanism, through a simple majority votes following three failed earlier attempts. Their terms will be up in early February 2022.
Authors of the amendments bill, Education and Science Committee Chair Shalva Papuashvili, Legal issues Committee Chair Anri Okhanashvili, MP Davit Matikashvili and MP Guram Macharashvili argued the changes are necessary to avoid a majoritarian parliamentary by-election in Rustavi in May being held by incomplete election administration.
The lawmakers’ explanatory note for the bill says the process of selecting new CEC chairs and members after their terms are over could continue well about four months under the current rules, if the political parties again fail to reach a consensus on the candidates. This process would continue past May, when holding by-elections is mandatory as per the law.
The GD party hopes to fast-track and push the changes through by the end of the week, when the parliamentary session of the fall concludes. Otherwise, adopting the changes would not be possible until February 2022, when the spring session commences.
The bill received an expedited endorsement from the Legal Issues Committee today, and awaits approval from the Parliament.
The proposed amendments come as the Georgian Dream, which quit the April 19 deal in July, has made a similar u-turn on introducing a 3/5 vote for appointing the Prosecutor General and hinted at backtracking on reducing the election threshold from 5% to 2% and holding any next general votes fully proportionally, all part of the EU-mediated deal’s provisions. The party had pledged to continue with the reforms envisaged in the deal despite leaving.
Noteworthy, when the Parliament initially adopted the new rules for appointing the CEC officials, the GD lawmakers included a one-off provision ahead of the October 2021 local polls that reduced the said 4-week intervals between failed votes to one week, drawing criticism from CSOs.
Watchdog says the bill “another violation of April 19 deal”
The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) argued the proposed amendments are “another violation of the April 19 deal” and aim to make it easier and faster for the ruling party to make “unilateral decisions.”
Such decisions, especially about the appointments to the Central Election Commission “do not help facilitate democratic consolidation in the country,” the key election watchdog argued. It maintained that the aim of introducing a supermajority vote for the CEC positions was to encourage consensus and multi-party support to the candidates.
But, ISFED noted that the ruling party did not put in the effort to appoint candidates that were acceptable for the political spectrum during the selection process in the summer as the GD had the possibility to elect them with a simple majority through the anti-deadlock mechanism anyways.
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