Georgian Lawmakers Approve Reforms To Parliamentary Election Process

TBILISI -- Georgian lawmakers have approved a bill on election reforms following a foreign-brokered deal to change a system that opposition parties insisted unfairly favored the ruling party heading into elections this autumn.

Lawmakers of opposition National Movement and European Georgia parties boycotted the June 29 parliamentary session, saying one of the conditions of the March 8 deal, namely the release of opposition figure Giorgi Rurua from pretrial detention, had not been met. Still, the bill was approved by 117 lawmakers, with three voting against it.

The legislation takes effect once President Salome Zurabishvili signs it into law.

The amendments outlined in accordance with the March 8 memorandum of understanding facilitated by U.S. and European Union officials, dictate that parliament consists of 120 members elected through a proportional voting system, while 30 members would be elected through a majority system.

The electoral threshold for proportional elections will be set at 1 percent and a capping mechanism will mean that no single party receiving less than 40 percent of the votes cast will be allowed to hold a majority of seats in parliament.

Under the current electoral system, 73 of 150 parliamentary seats are claimed by candidates who finish first in district races. The remaining seats are distributed proportionally in accordance with the national share of the vote that a party wins.

This led to Georgian Dream, led by billionaire founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, holding three-quarters of the legislature's seats even though it won just under half of the popular vote.

Opposition parties have insisted that three opposition figures, including Rurua, the founder and a shareholder of the opposition-aligned Mtavari Arkhi TV, must be released from custody in order to meet all the conditions of the March 8 deal.

Georgian Dream has said the release of opposition figures from custody was not a condition of the agreement.

In mid-May, President Zurabishvili pardoned two opposition politicians, Gigi Ugulava, the leader of the European Georgia party, who once served as Tbilisi Mayor, and former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, who leads the Victorious Georgia party. Many thought then that Rurua would also be released, but this has not happened.

Rurua was arrested on November 18 and charged with illegally purchasing, possessing, and carrying a firearm, which he and his supporters have denied. Opposition parties insist that Rurua’s arrest was politically motivated.