Voters in Georgia will go to the polls on Sunday to elect mayors in 12 cities, heads (gamgebeli) of 59 municipalities and 71 new local councils, Sakrebulos, for a term of three years and four months.
Total of 16,190 candidates participate in the elections, according to the Central Election Commission; the figure includes candidates in party-list and majoritarian contests for seats in Sakrebulos, as well as candidates running for gamgebeli posts in municipalities and mayoral offices of 12 cities.
Mayors of eleven cities and gamgebelis in municipalities will be directly elected for the first time in these local elections.
24 political parties and blocs have been registered to run in the June 15 elections.
Similar to 2013 presidential election, Sunday’s municipal elections are dominated by rivalry between two major political forces – ruling GD coalition and opposition UNM party. GD leaders have declared for multiple times about intention to win races in all the municipalities; and UNM will try strengthen its status of the major opposition force in the country and to win or at least push races into second round in some of the municipalities and towns, especially in those ones where its presidential candidate performed relatively well in the 2013 election eight months ago (among them in Zugdidi and Dmanisi).
Some non-parliamentary opposition parties teamed up in separate election blocs, but despite attempts failed to form a single coalition – their campaign was dominated by criticism of both GD and UNM. Nino Burjanadze-led coalition (Burjanadze, although actively engaged in campaigning for her coalition, herself does not run in these elections for any post) and an election bloc of New Rights and Free Georgia parties are the two relatively larger non-parliamentary opposition groups. They are likely to split votes between each other and possibly will also attract part of those voters who are frustrated by GD ruling coalition, which may become an important factor in Tbilisi mayoral contest in terms of determining whether the race goes into second round or not; 14 candidates are running for Tbilisi mayoral office. The race in the capital city, where more than third of country’s voters live, draws most of the attention.
Election campaign became, as one monitoring group put it, “more tense” in weeks before the polling day; the process was overshadowed by several violent incidents and by reports of pressure on dozens of opposition candidates. One of the local observer groups, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, which monitors electoral process, criticized authorities for a failure to prevent such incidents on the one hand and on the other for not reacting properly to the reported cases. But prosecutor’s office said on June 12 that it studied 80 reported cases of pressure on candidates; it said that in 76 cases out of 80, candidates denied pressure was exerted on them and criminal investigation was launched into 4 cases of alleged pressure.
Sakrebulo, a local council, is a representative body on the level of municipal district and in “self-governed” cities.
Like the Parliament, Sakrebulos too are elected through a mix system – part of Sakrebulo members are elected in majoritarian, single-mandate constituencies through first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all rule, and another part through party-list, proportional contest.
Total of 2,084 seats in 71 Sakrebulos across the country are for grab in the June 15 elections – 1,035 seats are allocated through party-list, proportional system and 1,049 seats through majoritarian system.
A political party or an election bloc has to garner at least 4% of votes in a respective municipality in order to endorse members in Sakrebulo through party-list, proportional contest.
In single-mandate constituencies, majoritarian candidates winning more votes than others (no threshold is set) will be declared outright winners of the race. Independent candidates are also eligible to run for majoritarian seat.
The largest Sakrebulo is in the capital Tbilisi with 50 seats, where 25 councilors are elected through party-list system and another half are majoritarian councilors, elected from capital city’s 25 single-mandate constituencies.
15 party-list seats and 10 majoritarian seats are in Sakrebulos of three “self-governed” cities – Kutaisi, Rustavi and Batumi.
10 party-list and 5 majoritarian seats are in Sakrebulos of other “self-governed” cities: Poti, Telavi, Mtskheta, Gori, Akhaltsikhe, Ambrolauri, Ozurgeti and Zugdidi.
In other Sakrebulos in provincial municipalities, party-list seats are 15 and number of majoritarian seats in those councils varies depending on the size of a municipality.
Georgia’s ten regions (such as Kakheti, Samegrelo, Kvemo Kartli etc. not counting breakaway regions) are divided into municipalities, made up of villages and towns (except of the capital and eleven other cities with “self-governed” status).
Executive branch of the authorities on the level of these municipalities are headed by gamgebelis; up until now gamgebelis were appointed by respective municipality’s Sakrebulo.
Total of 257 candidates are running for gamgebeli seats in 59 municipalities.
Sagarejo and Khelvachauri municipalities are the most contested districts where seven candidates in each are running in the race. Only two candidates are registered in Tsageri and Ninotsminda municipalities. GD ruling coalition is the only political force having gamgebeli candidates in all 59 municipalities. Independent candidates are not eligible to run for gamgebeli post.
A candidate has to win more than 50% of votes to be declared an outright winner of the race, otherwise the race will go into runoff.
Direct election of mayor was introduced in the capital city Tbilisi in 2010 and the rule expanded to eleven other cities (Kutaisi, Rustavi, Batumi, Poti, Telavi, Mtskheta, Gori, Akhaltsikhe, Ambrolauri, Ozurgeti and Zugdidi) as a result of reform endorsed by the Parliament earlier this year.
Total of 84 candidates are running for mayoral offices in 12 cities. Independent candidates are not eligible to run for mayor.
Races for mayoral offices will go into second round if no candidate receives more than half of the votes on June 15.
Tbilisi is the most contested city where 14 candidates are running for mayor, followed by Batumi (11 candidates) and Rustavi (9 candidates); only two candidates are running for mayoral office of Ambrolauri, small town in Racha-Lechkhumi mountainous region.
Only the Georgian Dream (GD) ruling coalition and opposition United National Movement (UNM) party have candidates in all twelve cities.
There is a three-tiered election administration, which is the main body in charge of administrating elections – precinct, district and central election commissions.
Central Election Commission (CEC) consists of 13 members including its chairperson Tamar Zhvania.
Seven members of CEC are appointed by political parties – one is from UNM opposition party and other six members represent six parties united in the ruing Georgian Dream coalition.
Six remaining CEC members are certified election administrators, who are nominated by the President and approved by the Parliament. While in overall CEC’s work was considered to be professional by observers, the commission was criticized when it came to handling of several cases related to candidates’ residency requirement.
Similar to CEC, district and precinct commissions consist of 13 members each. There are 73 District Election Commissions (DEC) and 3,617 Precinct Election Commissions.
CEC will summarize final vote tally for elections in Tbilisi and DECs will summarize vote tallies for their respective districts.