The messenger logo

Election code disagreements may have far-reaching consequences

By Messenger Staff
Friday, November 27
Work on the election code continues very slowly and with lots of controversies. The current Georgian administration has promised, mainly to convince its Western friends, that it will implement a new wave of democracy in the country but is visibly unwilling to do so, even though it has entered into dialogue with the opposition over the election code. The code drafted will have to be acceptable for the majority of the political spectrum in Georgia, otherwise there is much doubt that the forthcoming local elections will be regarded as fair and genuine.

The most serious issue which arose during work on the election code was the threshold for electing the Mayor of Tbilisi. The administration suggested that the leading candidate in the poll could be declared the winner in if they had only 30% of the vote, but the opposition, in particular the Alliance for Georgia, believe that no one should be elected with less than 50% of the vote, a second round of voting being held between the top two candidates if neither reaches this threshold. The administration's idea is very simple, it is sure that if there are several opposition candidates none of them will gain 30% individually but the ruling party's candidate will, through combining genuine ballots with the abuse of administrative resources if all else fails. The administration is very much scared of the possibility of a second round, where all opposition supporters will vote for a single candidate and thus beat the National Movement's representative.

Analyst Soso Tsiskarishvili thinks that the administration wants to achieve victory by receiving the minimum of votes necessary. This means that as the average election turnout is around 60% the Mayor of Tbilisi could be elected by only 10% of voters if we have a 30% threshold. Opposition members think that this is too low a figure to give the elected person any legitimacy, although in English-speaking countries such a result is possible and sometimes achieved without similar questions being raised.

The ruling party will not budge from 30%, although the Alliance was ready to lower its demand up to 45% in exchange for some better general conditions. Meanwhile the National Democratic Party has initiated the signing of the draft changes agreed with the authorities. The National Democrats are afraid that if the concessions the ruling party has already made are not accepted the opposition might lose those as well. Some opposition parties share the National Democrats' concern and have supported this initiative, the ruling party has not yet made a decision and the Alliance for Georgia is refusing to sign the document, saying it serves the ruling party's interests.

The election code is arousing plenty of passions. One way or another work on it is continuing and certain agreements should be achieved. Time is pressing, as the President has given May 30, 2010 as the date for holding the local elections under the new code. This date has not been confirmed by Parliament so far so it is not binding, and theoretically the elections can be postponed if the code has not been put into law. However doing this will further harm the democratic credentials of the administration, something which may ultimately prove its undoing when it depends on Western support.