Friday, July 20, 2007, #137 (1404)

Electoral Legislation Still Favors Incumbent Party
By M. Alkhazashvili

The opposition is pushing for changes leading up to presidential and parliamentary elections in 2008. A memorandum signed by the leaders of five opposition parties calls on the government to fulfill two demands—change the composition of electoral commissions and change the way majoritarian elections are held.

The opposition reminds the government that election fraud was one of the triggers for the Rose Revolution.

“Unfair elections were the basis for events in November 2003. The president and his team, who came into power as a result of these events, have further destroyed political competition,” New Rights MP Mamuka Katsitadze said on July 16.
The opposition uses the October 2006 local elections to talk about unfairness in Georgia’s electoral laws. According to them, the ruling party won about 60 percent of the votes and the opposition about 40 percent in the Tbilisi sakrebulo [local council] election, but due to the winner-takes-all system in Georgia, the ruling party took 92 percent of the seats, and the opposition acquired less than 10 percent. The sakrebulo then elects the Tbilisi mayor.

“The government says that Tbilisi has a mayor chosen by the people. In reality, his name was not included on any ballot and Ugulava did not receive a single vote [by the people],” Republican Party representative Zurab Marakvelidze says.

The opposition claims that the international community was not satisfied with the 2006 local elections, which was reflected in several reports. New Rights MP Mamuka Katsitadze says that as a result of this, the Council of Europe and OSCE created a special inter-party working group which was to push for amendments to the electoral legislation.

The group has been working for several months and, according to the opposition, has reached consensus on several minor issues. However, agreement has not been reached on major issues and the group has reached a deadlock.

Five opposition parties—the New Rights, Conservatives, Labor Party, Industrialists and Republicans—worked out a joint memorandum and demanded two principal changes to the election code. They claim that without these changes it’s impossible to hold fair elections.

“We address the government once more to hold fair elections in 2008. If such [fair] elections are held and the government wins them, we will concede defeat; however, if we win, the government should admit it. If there are no fair elections, political confrontation will continue in Georgia,” the newspaper Akhali Taoba quotes Conservative MP Kakha Kukava as saying.           

Though the opposition is against the seven percent election threshold needed to win a seat in parliament, they say this isn’t the most important issue. They would like to reduce the election threshold to four or five percent, the recommendation of the Venice Commission, but the current administration has not moved an inch on this issue.

The memorandum proposes changes to electoral commissions, pushing for political parties which qualify for state financing to have representatives on the commissions. The document also pushes for changes in the way that majoritarian MPs are elected, which would favor voting for candidates rather than voting for parties—to the benefit of opposition parties.

The opposition fears that the electoral legislation coming into effect for the 2008 election will allow the incumbent party to sweep the majoritarian seats.

The opposition’s fears aren’t ungrounded. The administration has shown particular obstinacy about changing election rules. And the laws, as they stand, clearly favor the ruling party. It seems it’s going to take quite a bit more international pressure to see reforms bringing Georgian electoral law closer to EU standards.

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