Heated debates about a controversial proposal to increase number of seats in the next parliament prompted some of the senior lawmakers, who have initiated this constitutional amendment, to say that they would reconsider whether to further push it or not.
Draft of constitutional amendment, envisaging increasing number of lawmakers from current 150 to 190 in the next parliament to be elected in late 2012, was initiated by MPs both from the ruling party and the parliamentary minority group based on an electoral system reform deal they have reached this summer.
The constitutional amendment is currently undergoing a formal process of a month-long public discussions and the legislative body is expected to start draft’s discussion later this month. But the issue was debated at the session on December 6 after an opposition faction, Unity for Justice, called on lawmakers from the ruling party and the parliamentary minority to withdraw the proposal accusing the both of ignoring 2003 referendum results in which majority of voters said they want to have no more than 150 MPs in the Parliament.
While agreeing that the move is unpopular, lawmakers from opposition and the ruling party were pointing the finger at each other, trading accusations for proposing the idea to increase number of MPs.
Levan Vepkhvadze, a lawmaker from the Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM), said the part of the opposition, which refused to join the electoral system reform deal, as well as the ruling party were “unscrupulously” trying to place burden of responsibility for this unpopular move on the CDM and on some other opposition parties which had signed under the electoral system reform deal.
The argument put forth by the ruling party and others offering this proposal is that increasing number of seats – majoritarian seats from current 75 to 83 and seats allocated through party-list, proportional system from current 75 to 107 – will help to create more pluralistic Parliament. The argument is based on the notion that while the ruling party still have more chances to win most of the majoritarian seats, there will be more chances for the opposition to increase its representation in the Parliament mainly thanks to increasing number of seats allocated through party-list, proportional system by 32.
Under the existing system, wherein a majoritarian MP is elected through winner-takes-all rule (this rule will remain in the proposed system too), the ruling party endorsed its candidates in 71 out of 75 single-mandate constituencies in 2008 parliamentary elections. In addition the ruling party endorsed 48 lawmakers through proportional, party-list system after receiving 59.18% of votes. As a result, although the National Movement in party-list contest received 59.18% support, it managed to take total of 119 seats, which makes 79.3% of seats in the 150-member legislative body.
When talks on the electoral system reform started earlier this year, the eight opposition parties, at the time speaking with one voice on the issue, were pushing for such system wherein seats allocated to a party (both trough majoritarian and party-list) would have been proportional to the votes received in the party-list contest.
After a split within this group of eight parties, two of them – CDM and the New Rights – agreed this summer on the ruling party’s proposal, which eventually was reflected in the draft of new electoral code expected to be endorsed later this month. Increasing number of MPs, requiring constitutional amendment, is part of this deal.
Hypothetically, if the scenario of 2008 elections repeats itself in 2012 parliamentary polls (ruling party garnering 59.18% of votes in party-list system and winning 71 out of planned 83 majoritarian seats), the ruling party will control up to 70% of seats in the 190-member Parliament – less in percentage points than now (79.3%), but still larger majority than its overall share of the votes received in the party-list, proportional race.
MP Levan Vepkhvadze said during the debates on December 6, that “the political consensus” – referring to the electoral system reform deal – “can prevail over the opinion of one part of the society” for the sake of long-term benefit that the society would receive from increasing number of MPs, because it would help create more pluralistic Parliament as opposition would be able to endorse more of its members in the legislative body thanks to increased number of proportional, party-list seats. Another lawmaker from the CDM, Giorgi Akhvlediani, said that his party would consider withdrawing signatures of its MPs from initiating draft of constitutional amendment.
A ruling party lawmaker, Petre Tsiskarishvili, who chairs the parliamentary majority group, said that it was the opposition which offered increasing number of MPs and it was “dishonesty” to now point the finger at the ruling party. Echoing President Saakashvili’s similar remarks on the issue, MP Tsiskarishvili said that the ruling party simply had to accept the proposal as a compromise in order to reach a deal on the electoral system reform.
“If you do not want it, well, we will definitely reconsider it after all these statements that we heard today,” MP Tsiskarishvili said, adding that the ruling party would discuss the issue of revising the proposal to increase number of seats in the next Parliament.
Parliamentary Chairman, Davit Bakradze, called on the lawmakers not to take any decisions emotionally based on heated debates. He said that electoral system reform deal “is a consensus-based agreement reached as a result of a very long process”, but also added that if the participating parties no longer wanted it “no one can impose it on them.”