A brief assessment of changes in election legislation
On June 28, the Parliament of Georgia adopted the amendments to the Electoral Code, aimed at improving the electoral legislation. The working process lasted for several months and the final version of the document also reflected the provisions of the agreement between the political parties (the so-called Charles Michel Document).
Overall, Transparency International Georgia welcomes the changes, as they provide for several important reforms, but there are also some issues that we consider problematic. Among the important positive changes are the following:
- The rules for staffing the election commissions at all three levels become fairer. The number of members appointed by political parties increases and each party may appoint only one member. The appointment of professional members of the CEC will require the consent of ⅔ of the Parliament instead of a simple majority.
- For municipal assembly elections, the electoral threshold is reduced and the share of proportionally elected assembly members is increased, therefore, the changes ensure a more proportional reflection of voters’ preferences in the mandates Moreover, a 40% threshold is required for winning majoritarian elections.
- Writing correction protocols to the summary protocols of the Precinct Election Commission in the days after the polling day becomes prohibited; The District Election Commission is prohibited from amending summary protocols without recounting the ballot papers; Moreover, District Election Commissions become obliged to recount the results of 10% of polling stations.
- The ban on participation in election campaigns during working hours has been extended to all public servants, as well as to employees of public preschool and general education institutions.
- Submitting election complaints to the election administration becomes possible electronically.
We assess the following changes negatively:
- A different rule for appointing CEC professional members (including the chairperson) will apply before the 2021 local elections. In particular, the so-called mechanism against political deadlock has been changed: in case of inability to elect a professional member by ⅔ of the Parliament, the candidates shall be approved by 3/5 of the Parliament, and if this quorum is not collected, the CEC member shall be elected by the simple parliamentary majority. The interval between each parliamentary vote shall be at least 4 weeks. However, before the 2021 elections, the 4-week period has been temporarily reduced to 1 week, which significantly reduces the room for a compromise between the parties and, in fact, allows the parliamentary majority to easily choose a candidate acceptable to it without the consent of the opposition.
- There is another temporary provision, according to which, if more than nine parties cross the parliamentary threshold, the party with more state funding will be given preference when appointing election commissioners, as opposed to the general rule when the preference is given to the party with the most votes. This provisional rule allows more than one party in the electoral bloc to appoint election commissioners, while one of the parties running in the election individually is left without such right.
- A political party loses the right to appoint a member to the election commissions if, as of April 19, 2021, all its MPs decided to leave the party and join another party. In such a case, the new party will be given the right to appoint the members of the election commissions. This provision was directly adapted to the case of the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, as a result of which, the party lost the right to appoint a member to the election commissions and it was handed over to the European Socialists, a new party which was created by all MPs of the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia.
- Another deputy is added to the CEC chairperson, which was not provided for in the signed political agreement. According to the agreement, the deputy chairman of the CEC should have been a member appointed only by one of the opposition political parties. Increasing the number of CEC deputies to some extent reduces the importance of the deputy appointed by opposition parties.
- At the polling station, on Election Day, party-appointed PEC members will no longer have the right to act as voter registrars, which puts commissioners in an unequal position. This restriction also may impede the proper enforcement of election procedures.
Transparency International Georgia will provide a more detailed analysis of electoral legislation reform later.