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'Proportional election system, as a way to overcome the crisis'

February 6, 2020
Lana Giorgidze

"The backsliding of democracy in Georgia over the recent period has come under the spotlight by international organizations and representatives of countries friendly to Georgia. Backing out on the promise to adopt a proportional system, the formation process of the Supreme Court, the ongoing political crisis and the policies of the Government of Georgia has been numerously criticized by the country’s domestic and international partners. This is confirmed with the critical statements made at the European Parliament and the strongly worded letters addressed to the Prime Minister of Georgia by the representatives of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. In these circumstances, it is imperative for the Government of Georgia and the ruling party to take steps aimed at deescalating the situation and restoring the reputation of the country in the eyes of the international partners” the representatives of the civil society organizations made this statement during the press-conference on January 28.

Proportional election system 

In accordance to the 2019 publication about the election systems published by the research department of the Parliament of Georgia, the proportional system was first applied in Belgium in 1889. Currently it is used in more than 50 countries, including Israel, Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal. 

With this system, the election district is always multi-mandate and the mandates between the political parties are distributed proportionally to the votes they gain in that particular district. The proportional election systems differ from each other based on the rule of voting and distribution of the mandates among the political parties; the entire country is one multi-mandate election district, or whether it is divided in several multi-mandate districts. 

In accordance to the Constitution of Georgia, the 2020 elections shall be held with the mix (proportional and majoritarian) system. The proportional election system will be activated from 2024 without so-called bonus and the mandates will be distributed proportionally among all those parties, which will gain more than 5% of the votes in the elections. 

20 opposition political parties collected 300 000 signatures with the request to shift to the proportional election system from 2020 and the petition was submitted to the parliament in the beginning of June 2019. After the dispersal of the June 20-21 demonstrations and protest rallies, the ruling party gave in and promised the society to hold the 2020 parliamentary elections with the proportional system. On November 12, at the plenary session, the Parliament of Georgia examined the draft laws proposed by the opposition political parties and the ruling party. After the two-day long noisy sessions, the Parliament down-voted the draft law on the proportional election system with 101 votes vs 3. In order to adopt the constitutional amendments, it was necessary to collect 113 votes. The decision of the Parliament was largely protested by the opposition political parties, civil society organizations and civil activists.
Difference between the proportional and majoritarian election systems

HRC legal analyst Lazare Jibladze stated that besides the proportional and majoritarian systems, there is a model of the mixed election system, which unifies the both. 

“Of course, all systems have pros and cons. CSOs support the proportional system because we believe it will guarantee that the voices of more people and various social groups will be heard in the parliament. The proportional system will promote proportionality between the seats and the votes the political parties gain in the elections. Multi-party membership of the parliament is guaranteed with the proportional system unlike other systems. It will reduce polarization that is critically important for the Georgian voters today, whose majority has to make choice between the candidates they dislike. The proportional system will also increase the engagement of the citizens in the political life that is significant factor to increase the level of democracy in the country,” HRC analyst Lazare Jibladze told 

He added that considering the examples of the countries, where elections are conducted with the proportional system, there are more women in the legislative bodies. Increased participation of the women in political life will significantly improve the rights of Georgian women. 

Vakhushti Menabdze, Democratic Institutions Support Program Director at the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, underlined three main differences between the majoritarian and proportional election systems.
Vakhushti Menabde: “The political system is polarized between two main actors and the entire political spectrum is established around them that impoverishes the political discussion and demonizes the third opinion. Lack of political ideas is the result of majoritarian election system, which reinforces two-pole political landscape because the political parties need resource, which they do not have, therefore the majoritarian system compel them to create groups. The proportional system significantly undermines the political polarization and it is the top advantage of this system. 

As for the second problem – almost 20% of the population do not have representatives in the parliament that is result of the current election system – high election barrier. 

The third problem is related with unfair representation. The political party, which is supported by 50% of voters, finally controls 80% of the MPs. The proportional system offers to solve this problem too and with it all political parties will have as many representatives in the parliament as many supporters they have in the electorate. 

These are the three major problems of the majoritarian system and the key advantages of the proportional system, for what the CSOs and political parties request moving to the proportional system. 

Considering the abovementioned advantages, the ruling party sees threats in the proportional system and the majoritarian system is more acceptable for them as it places them in advantageous conditions while they will not be able to enjoy similar advantages with the natural barrier.”

Pros and cons of the proportional system

HRC legal analyst Lazare Jibladze noted that all systems, including the proportional system, have their negative aspects. It is important to underline that the selection of any concrete system is not an end in itself. 

“Like other systems, the proportional system also has disadvantages. With the political diversity, the multi-party parliament may cause complicated decision-making process that may become pre-condition of the political crisis. However, on the other hand, multi-party political party encourages the political parties to cooperate in order to create the parliamentary majority; as for the selection of the members of the coalition government, it will increase level of legitimacy and political accountability. Finally, it will minimize the possibility to govern the country only by one individual.

With the proportional system, if the internal arrangement of the political party is democratic, the leadership of the political parties creates the lists and not the party members. At the same time, the proportional system makes it difficult for the voters to get information about the proposed candidates in the lists of the political parties and the voter makes decision based on their personal feelings towards the concrete individuals associated with the political party,” Lazare Jibladze clarified. 

HRC analyst believes that the proportional election system with the current election formula deprives the political party in the parliamentary majority to misappropriate the so-called free mandates of the majoritarian MPs.

“Regardless the fact, which political party gains the most votes, the government will permanently try to maintain current inequality. Therefore, it is important that all political powers agreed on common rules with the proportional system that is within the best interests of the electorate,” Lazare Jibladze added.

CSO representatives believe that This situation can be resolved by following through with the public promise of adopting a proportional electoral system. This decision would be perceived by the local and international society as the ruling party’s readiness to support the country’s democratic development. 

CSOs call on the Georgian Dream to take into account their responsibility towards the democratic development of the country and to re-submit the initiative on Constitutional Changes to the Parliament in relation to the adoption of a proportional electoral system.