The Parliament adopted changes to the election code with its third and the final reading on March 8. The parliamentary opposition representatives refrained from participating in the voting process, stating that various sections of the changes are obscure.
Changes to the election code adopted
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, March 10
Among the key changes introduced are: setting a minimal threshold for electing mayors and Gamgebelis in the first round of a vote at 50%, lowering the threshold for proportional, party-list contests in regions from 5% to 4%, increasing party-list seats in most of the Sakrebulos, and introduction of new mechanisms for additional state funding for political parties.
The parliamentary majority did not support the alternative draft represented by the United National Movement (UNM), which allowed the initiative group to nominate independent candidates for Mayoral and Gamgebeli (governor) posts. Through the law, independent candidates, nominated by initiative groups, can run for majoritarian seats in the Sakrebulos. Candidates for the above mentioned positions (Mayor, Gamgebeli) should be named only by a political party or an election bloc.
If parties or election blocs gain at least 3% of votes in the local elections, they will receive state funding to cover expenses in an amount of maximum GEL 500,000.
The changes also envisage increasing funding of party representatives in election administrations.
As the coalition and the UNM had the best outcomes in the previous elections they will get GEL 600,000 each for 2014 elections from the state budget. However, due to the recent changes the parties will be obliged to direct at least 15% of the money towards buying airtime for ads in at least seven different local TV channels in the regions.
But those regional TV stations, which will sell their airtime for political election ads to the GD and UNM, will be obligated to allocate free airtime to those political parties, which got one time state financing as they received less than 5% during the previous parliamentary elections. The channels will not have the same obligation towards the political parties, which were denied participation in the 2012 parliamentary elections.
Member of the parliamentary majority Zakaria Kutsnashvili claims that the changes would ensure free and transparent elections in the future. The coalition MP Zviad Dzidziguri states that some changes are also planned concerning adapting the election districts for disabled people.
However, the opposition member Pavle Kublashvili admits that there are several obscure elements in the changes that will disturb the formation of a healthy election environment in the country. According to him, the government’s refusal on biometric election lists would also discourage transparent and fair elections. Fellow UNM MP Levan Bezhashvili states that the coalition is trying to fit the election code to its political goals.
Member of the non-parliamentary opposition, Mamuka Katsitadze, positively assessed the 50% threshold. However, he stresses that the law does not regulate the creation of multi-mandate election districts that would solve the problem of sharing mandates between big and small election districts.
Execute Director of the International Society of Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Nino Lomjaria, stressed that the changes did not ensure an equal election environment.
“One vote equality principle is not protected in majoritarian elections that do not stand up to international standards. The system will not encourage a multi-party system in regions and mainly serves the interest of the ruling party,” Lomjaria stated.