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Talks on Rule of Electing Tbilisi Mayor
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 14 Nov.'09 / 15:06

The ruling National Movement Party and parties in the parliamentary minority agree on setting a 30% threshold for electing Tbilisi mayor, but Alliance for Georgia, whose leader Irakli Alasania will run for the mayoral office, says the proposed threshold is too low.

It was one of the key issues discussed by an inter-party working group on electoral reform on November 12. The working group was established initially by eight parties (the Labor Party withdrew from the group) in February with the facilitation of U.S. National Democratic Institute. The Alliance for Georgia, which unites New Rights, Republican and Our Georgia-Free Democrats (OGFD) parties, joined the group in September.

The proposal on which the ruling party and most of the other parties within the group agree stipulates that a mayoral candidate winning more than others and more than 30% of the vote would be declared the outright winner in the first round without the need for a runoff.
 
The ruling party’s starting position was to have no threshold at all, while the Alliance for Georgia was pushing for rule similar to the one applied to the presidential elections when a runoff is required if non of the candidates garner more than 50% of votes in the first round.

Politicians from the Alliance for Georgia said their proposal would secure “high legitimacy” of a directly elected capital city mayor. Otherwise, Zurab Abashidze of OGFD said, legitimacy of a mayor, who might be elected with votes less than 50% would always be questionable. “And this situation will not help to defuse political crisis,” he said.

50% threshold is part of proposals, which the Alliance for Georgia tabled when it joined the inter-party working group and which was agreed with four other non-parliamentary opposition parties, which refuse to participate in the working group.

Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM), which is the leading party in the parliamentary minority group and which also plans to nominate its candidate for the mayoral office, came up with a proposal to have a 33% threshold and after the talks on November 12 within the inter-party working group the most of the parties, except of the Alliance for Georgia, eventually agreed to have 30% threshold.

No final decision has yet been made on this proposal and the Alliance for Georgia hopes it still will be possible to further increase the threshold.

Davit Usupashvili, the leader of Republican Party, signaled on November 13 that the Alliance for Georgia was ready to agree on 45% threshold. The inter-party working group’s next meeting is scheduled for November 16, but it is less likely that the ruling party would agree on increase of threshold beyond 30%.

Usupashvili also said on November 13 while speaking at Rustavi 2 TV’s talk show, Position, that the Alliance for Georgia was also offering an alternative option – the similar to the one used in election of London mayor, known as supplementary vote, when a voter is given a right to rank candidates in order of first and second preference.

The proposal of having the 30% threshold is similar to the one applied during the election of majoritarian MPs in the May, 2008 parliamentary elections and from which the ruling party candidates benefited, particularly in Tbilisi. The ruling party candidates were better positioned under this rule, because they were competing with several opposition candidates, wherein the overall opposition vote was split.

In last year’s parliamentary elections the ruling party candidates won the majoritarian MP seats with over 50% of votes in only four out of ten constituencies of Tbilisi. In four constituencies the ruling party candidates won the majoritarian seats by receiving, although more votes then their competitors, but less than 50% and the opposition candidates won in only two remaining constituencies.

On other issues, the inter-party working group is close to an agreement involving the composition of the Tbilisi City Council, known as Sakrebulo. The tentative agreement envisages that there will be 50 seats in Sakrebulo; 25 will be distributed proportionally between the parties in accordance to votes they garner in the proportional, party-list system and another 25 seats will be taken by Sakrebulo members who will win in majoritarian contest. But the rule of electing majoritarian Sakrebulo members has yet to be agreed. The same issue of threshold is likely to arise in this respect as well.

Speaking at an extended session of the National Security Council, which was also attended by some opposition leaders, President Saakashvili welcomed the progress, which, he said, was possible to achieve within the inter-party working group.

“I want to welcome the fact that an agreement in principle between the main entities [referring to political parties] has been achieved on main issues. To say the truth I was even surprised how many compromises were made, including by our friends. On number of issues we went far beyond than it was initially possible to imagine,” Saakashvili said.

“We should reach the point where decisions are made by compromises, instead of trying to shape law, constitution and election commission based on [political parties’] own interests; no one will be able to do that; the authorities have no ambition to do that and I hope other political parties won’t have that too,” he added.

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