New Election Code Draft Splits Opinion
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, September 19
The draft of the new electoral code was posted on the parliament’s website on September 16 and each Georgian is freely able to become familiarized with it. The new 141-page document is slated to replace the current 171-page electoral code, which has been amended 46 times since its approval in 2001.
As some opposition parties' representatives state, the draft was adopted by consensus. Those that worked on the document believe that the amendments will ensure a free and democratic election environment in Georgia, however, this belief is not shared by a great number of opposition parties, which, from the beginning refused to negotiate with the authorities and now are united within the so called 'Opposition Six'. This grouping is the former Opposition Eight minus the New Rights and the Christian Democrats, which participated in the negotiation process over the draft with the government.
Based on the draft, the number of MPs will increase to 190. Of these, 107 would be elected by proportional representation and 83 through a majoritarian system. Biometric IDs would not be used during the election instead a special group will be created working on elections lists. GEL 1 mln will be allocated for those opposition parties which manage to overcome the 5% election threshold to cover election expenses while GEL 300,000 from that million would be targeted for covering pre election TV commercial costs. At the same time, some administrative changes have been carried out within the draft concerning the rules of financing political parties or individuals.
The draft is not ideal, but it is realistic – a representative of the New Rights, Manana Nachkebia told The Messenger. According to Nachkebia, the negotiation process with the authorities was conducted constructively and main opposition demands have been taken into consideration, "they were not only New Rights demands, they were the whole Opposition Eight demands, though only two opposition parties from that group agreed on negotiations," Nachkebia stated and underlined those key agreements that the opposition managed to have pencilled in to the draft. "To increase the number of MPs was the authorities' demand and we had to agree to this demand, however there will be mainly a growth of those MPs who will be elected through proportional representation and not the majoritarian system. One of the main demands of the opposition was holding the elections using biometric IDs, however the authorities refused this due to financial and some other reasons, however we achieved the formation of a special group which will check elections lists and that group will consist mainly of opposition members," she said adding that the main goal of the New Rights party was to negotiate the formation of a multi-party parliament where decisions would not be made individually and that this issue was something the draft dealt with.
The New Rights statement that the draft reflected the former Opposition 8's intentions and demands was rejected by the representative of Our Georgia-Free Democrats, Irakli Chikovani. As Chikovani told The Messenger, "the draft is very far from the demands the Opposition 8 and in general, the opposition, had and has. It does not ensure the formation of exact election lists and there is no responsible state institution which would answer for violations. No qualified representation is ensured in election districts. The growth in the number of MPs was illegal and there are a lot of issues which will not guarantee free elections. In reality, it is not a new election code, it is practically identical to the old one," Chikovani said and added that the party will show Georgian society that no real change has been carried out, "at the same time, we are actively working with the international community in this field and we have sent our opinions and recommendations on the issue abroad."
Analyst Nika Chitadze assessed the project "mainly positively" while speaking with The Messenger. According to the analyst, the fact that the opposition will take part in a pre election campaign, that media and NGOs will be actively involved in the process, and that GEL 1 mln would be allocated for those parties which overcome the 5 % threshold will positively affect the election environment, "however, one main point I do not agree is the growth in the number of MPs. This decision is against the will of the Georgian people. However, on the other hand, due to this decision the opposition would have a better chance to take seats in parliament, which would be better for democracy in the country, as well. The opposition should seek more proportionally elected MPs, and make sure this is written into the draft," Chitadze stated.