Several proposed amendments to election legislation need to be reconsidered - საერთაშორისო გამჭვირვალობა - საქართველო

Several proposed amendments to election legislation need to be reconsidered

25 May, 2021


On 22 May, the Legal Issues Committee of the Parliament of Georgia approved in the first reading the proposed amendments to the election legislation. Most of these amendments featured in the EU-mediated agreement signed by political parties. We welcome the fact that the main points of this agreement have already been included in the draft law and, if properly enforced, there should be more confidence in the next elections. However, it is our opinion that several amendments are not fully in line with the spirit and aims of the agreement.

  1. Reducing the time period between parliamentary votes to select candidates nominated for professional membership of the Central Election Commission (CEC) rules out the need for consensus among parties and allows the ruling party to easily select desirable candidates. The amendment concerns the procedure and time frames of appointing professional members of the CEC by the Parliament, specifically, a so-called anti-deadlock mechanism included in this process. According to the political agreement, CEC members (including its chairperson) shall be appointed by a minimum of a two-thirds majority of the Parliament’s full composition (100 votes) for a five-year term. If none of the candidates receive the support of the two-thirds majority of the Parliament, a new vote for the same candidates shall be held not earlier than four weeks after the first vote. In this case, too, the approval by the two-thirds majority of the Parliament shall be required to appoint CEC members. If this attempt also fails to produce a sufficient number of votes, a three-fifth majority of the Parliament (90 votes) shall be sufficient this time and the vote shall also be held at least four weeks later. Should this attempt also fail, the Parliament can appoint CEC members by a simple majority (76 votes) another four weeks later. The main goal of this mechanism is to ensure that the parties represented in the Parliament are strongly motivated to appoint truly neutral and compromise candidates to the CEC. However, in the amendments approved by the Legal Issues Committee, the minimum required period between the votes was reduced from four weeks to one – a one-off decision applicable only to the period before the upcoming local elections – which significantly diminishes an opportunity for the parties to achieve compromise and effectively allows the parliamentary majority to easily appoint candidates it considers acceptable without the opposition’s consent.
  2. The rule of appointing election commission members by political parties has been changed in favour of one party – the European Socialists, and to the detriment of another – the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, which is inappropriate and unfair in principle. According to the political agreement, nine out of 17 members in each election commission shall be appointed by political parties. At the same time, each party shall have the right to appoint only one member. This provision was included because nine electoral entities cleared the 1% threshold in the 2020 parliamentary elections, correspondingly, each entity was to appoint one member. According to the amendments approved by the Legal Issues Committee, this rule was included but with an adjustment specifically made to fit a new party, the European Socialists, formed by MPs who entered the Parliament as members of the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia. According to this adjustment, a party loses its right to appoint election commission members if all MPs who were elected to the Parliament from its list leave this party and join a different one. In this case, the right to appoint election commission members shall be transferred to this new party. According to this provision, the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia will lose this right in favour of European Socialists. In addition to the fact that the political agreement does not contain such a provision, it is unfair and inappropriate in principle to “punish” one party for refusing to enter the Parliament.
  3. Increasing the number of the CEC deputy chairpersons diminishes, to an extent, the significance of the deputy chairperson appointed by opposition parties. According to the political agreement, the CEC deputy chairperson must be a member appointed by one of the opposition political parties. The goal of this amendment is to ensure that opposition parties have greater confidence in the CEC. According to the draft law supported by the Legal Issues Committee, the CEC chairperson shall have two deputies, one of whom shall be a member appointed by an opposition party and the other – a professional member. Despite the fact that according to the draft law, in the event of the termination of authorities of the CEC chairperson, her/his powers shall be first and foremost exercised by a member appointed by the opposition, the existence of the second deputy to some extent weakens the mechanism included in the political agreement. Since the powers of already appointed professional members, including the incumbent deputy chairperson, of the CEC are not being terminated, and there were some questions with regard to their impartiality during the most recent elections, we may assume that this amendment serves to strengthen the ruling party’s positions in the CEC.

Today, more than ever, the country has a chance to implement an ambitious election reform. This opportunity is provided by an agreement signed by political parties. The goal of this agreement is to create well-functioning election procedures the correct implementation of which should result in a high level of public trust in the elections held in the country. We call on parties to reconsider these amendments once again and ensure that they are as close to the spirit of the political agreement as possible. Transparency International Georgia will publish its assessment of other amendments envisaged by the draft law later on.