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Why the government will win the elections, and win big

Wednesday, May 14
The government is strongly positioned to win a two-thirds majority in parliament next week—but opposition voters will have a hard time swallowing it.

These elections came out of the November crisis. That month, after weeks of anti-government protests, riot police beat demonstrators and ransacked an opposition TV station, prompting a state of emergency. President Mikheil Saakashvili called a snap presidential election as an outlet for tensions, and to shore up his tattered mandate.

Tensions eased, but not by much: Saakashvili won reelection in January, but the opposition called the victory rigged. Many voters agreed, particularly in the capital.

In that poll, voters overwhelmingly asked to hold the next parliamentary elections this spring. A significant number suspect this May 21 poll will be riddled with fraud, an expectation the opposition is doing its best to play up.

But the nature of Georgia’s electoral system makes a big win an easy task for the government.

The ruling National Movement is at 52 percent support with likely voters, according to a poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. The firm, which advises the ruling party, accurately called the presidential election from three weeks out. It projects the government will get 57 percent of the vote once undecided voters make up their minds at the ballot box.

If the National Movement does get 57 percent on election day, they are likely to end up with more than seven in ten seats in parliament.

In fact, by our count, the ruling party could poll in the mid-40s and still maintain a two-thirds majority in parliament. [See the Messenger blog for a closer look at the numbers.]

That’s thanks to controversial amendments in March which divided the 150 seats in parliament in two, the halves elected through parallel systems: 75 by country-wide voting on party lists, with seats doled out proportionally; 75 by voting in single-representative districts, where victory goes to the single candidate with the most votes.

If the National Movement gets 57 percent in the party list voting as the poll suggests, it wins 42 seats plus one or two extra, depending on how many people voted for parties which did not clear the five percent threshold for parliamentary representation.

Then there are the ‘majoritarian’ seats making up the other half of parliament. The ruling party will sweep these.

Nearly all of the 75 districts pit a government candidate against at least two viable opposition candidates, and often four or five.

Voters are polarized: there’s pro-government, and there’s anti-government. Opposition parties are trying to set themselves apart by accusing former allies of colluding with the government, but the net effect is a muddle of opposition parties on one side and the government on the other.

A majoritarian candidate needs just 30 percent of the vote to win without a runoff—so the opposition will split the vote across Georgia, leaving the ruling party candidate ahead and, in most cases, with a victory on a plurality of the vote.

Outside of Tbilisi, there is a small handful of districts which could go to the opposition. All in all, the opposition stand to pick up roughly 10–13 of these seats, with the faint possibility of more if they can force runoffs.

This leaves the government in the neighborhood of 62–65 of the majoritarian districts. To round out the 100 seats they need for a supermajority—useful for amending the constitution at will—as little as 44 percent of the party list vote could do.

And the ruling party could poll as low as 14 percent on election day but still walk away with more than half the seats.

The inevitable post-election protestors will be unpleasantly surprised if they see the government carrying half the vote but winning two-thirds of parliament. Hang on to your hats.