Why should the election system be changed in Georgia?
The election system that currently exist in Georgia has been criticized by international or local organizations on a number of occasions. However, to address the existing problems the state authorities have not yet taken any meaningful measures. The work of the Inter-Factional Task Force on elections in 2013-2014 illustrated once more that the government was not ready to implement any essential legislative amendments and to introduce election system that would ensure improved fairness of elections and promote translating of voters’ will in mandates in a proportionate manner.
ISFED believes it is important to provide public with information about deficiencies in Georgia’s current election system and positive outcomes that the reform will bring.
What is Georgia’s election system for parliamentary elections?
Georgia falls under the category of the states with the so-called mixed election system, in which both proportionate and majoritarian election systems co-exist.
In particular, the Georgian Parliament consists of 77 members elected in proportionate election system (candidates nominated through party lists) and 73 members elected through majoritarian election system.
Following elections through proportionate system, mandates are distributed among those political unions and election blocs that will gain at least 5% of votes1. As to majoritarian election system, winning candidate is the one that gains most number of votes but at least 30% of votes in relevant majoritarian election district2.
What are some of the negative aspects of the existing majoritarian election system in Georgia?
• The risk of losing votes
In majoritarian election systems their is a theoretical chance that a winning candidates gained over 30% of votes in the election precinct but votes against the candidate are significantly higher than the number of ballots cast in favor of him/her.
For instance, during April 27, 2013 parliamentary elections, winning majoritarian candidate in Kharagauli district gained total of around 47% of votes, while the total share of votes gained by other candidates was 52.16%3. Similarly, in Sighnaghi election district one of the candidates gained 49.01% of votes; however, total share of votes gained by other candidates running for the office was 50.98%4.
These facts prove that there is a risk of losing votes in majoritarian elections, which can be viewed as one of the disadvantages of the system. Further, the 30% threshold for the candidates is low and does not guarantee that a candidate is elected with high legitimacy5.
• Inequality of votes
Another important problem in majoritarian elections is related to significant inequalities in terms of number of constituents in individual election districts, which greatly violates the principle of equality of votes. For instance, there are 163, 654 voters registered in Kutaisi and 5 779 in Kazbegi. Despite the difference, constituents both in Kutaisi and Kazbegi6 election districts are able to elect a single majoritarian member of the parliament. The Venice Commission recommends that the difference among individual districts in terms of the number of registered voters should be within the range of 10% and it may not exceed 15% in extraordinary circumstances. The existing Election Code largely disregards the recommendations7.
• Lack of communication between voters and majoritarian members of the parliament
In addition to election-related problems, ISFED has found lack of communication between majoritarian candidates and voters, as illustrated by passive outreach of majoritarian MPs to voters. Most of the majoritarian MPs do not hold meetings with their constituents or rarely meet them. According to NDI’s estimates, as of August 2014 only 31% of constituents are aware of who their majoritarian MP8.
Georgian law regulates responsibilities of majoritarian MPs before constituents9. It is particularly important that they are obligated to meet constituents and take actions in response to their problems. However, in reality they mostly fail to adequately fulfill their foregoing responsibility.
• Unfair influence of the institute of majoritarian MP on local authorities
Notably, the institute of majoritarian MP in Georgia and its interaction with local self-government was introduced by using wrong practice. In some cases majoritarian MPs try to influence local self-government authorities, often meddling in staff appointments/dismissals and grossly imposing their political will.
What is Georgia’s election system for local self-government Sakrebulos?
Local self-government representative agencies and Sakrebulos are formed through mixed election system. Some members are elected through majoritarian election system, while rest are elected through proportionate election system.
In majoritarian election system a candidate has won the elections if s/he gained more votes than others. As to the proportionate election system, mandates are split between parties and election blocs that gained at least 4% of votes in the elections.
What are some of the deficiencies in the existing local self-government election system?
According to the Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR, the principle of equality of votes is violated in local self-government elections.
In addition to the foregoing problem, the election system for local self-government authorities is inadequate to secure the principle of proportionality. In particular, votes are not translated into mandates in a proportional manner. In mixed election system often parties with smaller voter support receive mandates fewer than votes they gained in the elections or visa versa, a powerful political party much bigger share of representatives in Sakrebulos than the share of votes it gained. The disproportion is caused by the fact that powerful parties gain additional mandates at the expense of majoritarian system.
For instance, based on the 2014 local self-government elections some of the mandates were distributed among parties the following way:
In Tetritskaro Nino Burjanadze-Unified Opposition gained 9.71% of votes but they have less than 6% representation in Sakrebulo, which is less than the percentage of actual votes gained. Similarly, in Marneuli the United National Movement (UNM) gained 28.87% of votes in the elections but has 18% representation in Sakrebulo. In Telavi the UNM gained 24.54% of votes but has as low as 16% representation in Sakrebulo.
With respect to parties that have higher voter support, as noted already the deficiency in the existing election system for local self-governments is acting in their favor. The coalition Georgian Dream gained 57% of votes in Kareli but has 72% representation in Sakrebulo. Similarly, it gained 46% of votes in Tbilisi but has 74% representation in Sakrebulo.
The same is true for almost every Sakrebulo. Results of ISFED’s research on proportions of representation of political forces in Sakrebulos is available here.
The existing election system does not encourage women participation in politics
Based on the results of 2014 local self-government elections, women representation in Sakrebulos through proportionate system is 15% and 8% through majoritarian. As to Mayoral elections, none of the women candidates won. Out of the women candidates nominated in Gamgebeli races, only one was elected to the office of Gamgebeli. There are total of 2 083 members of Sakrebulos in Georgia, 11,62% of which are women. According to the existing data, there has been a slight improvement from the previous composition of local self-governments in 2010 when men accounted for 88,9% of members, while women were only 11,1%.
Results of the local self-government elections have illustrated once more that compared to majoritarian election system, more women will be represented in local self-government representative bodies through the proportionate election system. In practice there is a certain link between election system that exists and women’s participation in politics. Proportionate-representative systems, unlike mixed systems currently in place in Georgia allows parties to present a diversified voter lists with more women candidates, i.e. more possibility for increasing women participation both at the party as well as at a broader electorate levels.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The existing election system for local self-government and parliament fails to ensure improved fairness of elections and promote translating of voters’ will in mandates in a proportionate manner which is an integral component of fair elections. Further, the principle of equality of votes is violated. Constituents registered in election districts do not enjoy equal opportunities for casting a vote for the same number of majoritarian members. The existing rule of distribution of proportionate mandates is in direct conflict with the essence of proportionate election system, according to which mandates should be distributed in proportion of votes.
To solve the existing problems it is important to launch the reform of the election system and introduce the type of system that will address these challenges. In particular, it will reflect will of Georgian voters more thoroughly and decrease the number of lost votes to the minimum, promote women participation in politics, increase voter trust and guarantee proportionate representation of parties in the Parliament of Georgia and in local self-government agencies.
1. See the Constitution of Georgia, Article 50, para.2. Organic law of Georgia the Election Code of Georgia, Article 125
2. See the organic law of Georgia the Election Code of Georgia, para.3, Article 125
3. See http://results2013.cec.gov.ge/
4. See http://results2012.cec.gov.ge/major13.html
5. See http://www.parliament.ge/files/1055_16721_957521_saarchevno_sistemebi.pdf
6. See http://www.cesko.ge/uploads/other/12/12680.pdf
7. EUROPEAN COMMISSION FOR DEMOCRACY THROUGH LAW (VENICE COMMISSION) AND OSCE OFFICE FOR DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS AND HUMAN RIGHTS (OSCE/ODIHR) JOINT OPINION ON THE ELECTION CODE OF GEORGIA as amended through March 2010, Opinion No. 571/2010, page 5, para.14
8. See https://www.ndi.org/files/NDIGeorgia_August-2014%20survey_Public-Political_GEO_VF.pdf
9. Law of Georgia on the Status of Member of the Parliament, Article 16
10. See the ifnormation and third report of monitoring post-election developments at http://www.isfed.ge/main/155/geo/
1.1 See Article 149 of the organic law of Georgia the Election Code of Georgia
12. See Article 148 of the organic law of Georgia the Election Code of Georgia
13. 1 EUROPEAN COMMISSION FOR DEMOCRACY THROUGH LAW (VENICE COMMISSION) AND OSCE OFFICE FOR
16 SeeBridge Project 2005 AEC, UNEAD v2, P.12/38
DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS AND HUMAN RIGHTS (OSCE/ODIHR) JOINT OPINION ON THE DRAFT ELECTION CODE OF GEORGIA, 2011, Page 8.para 22