The Georgian Constitutional Court has ruled that country’s existing electoral system, in particular its majoritarian component, undermines equality of vote and should be changed.
The Court’s ruling on May 28 stems from an application, which was filed by Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili together with another applicant, arguing that large discrepancy in size of single-mandate, majoritarian constituencies is violating equality of suffrage.
Georgia has a mixed system in which 73 lawmakers in 150-seat Parliament are elected in 73 majoritarian, single-mandate constituencies, and remaining 77 seats are allocated proportionally under the party-list contest among political parties, which clear 5% threshold.
The size of single-mandate, majoritarian constituencies vary from each other by number of voters – ranging from over 150,000 voters in the largest one to less than 6,000 voters in the smallest one.
Election observer organizations, including OSCE-led international election monitoring missions, have been repeatedly raising this issue for many years in their election monitoring reports noting that such huge discrepancy in size of single-mandate constituencies undermines equality of vote.
The Court’s ruling does not mean that the majoritarian component of the electoral system should necessarily be scrapped.
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Many opposition parties, as well as President Giorgi Margvelashvili, have called for scrapping of the majoritarian system; but such move would require constitutional changes, which is highly unlikely as it would need support of at least 113 MPs.
The Constitutional Court said that its ruling does not give a preference to any particular system and it is only about the need to provide protection of equality of vote.
“It’s up to the Georgian Parliament to decide on proportional and majoritarian models of the electoral system provided that constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens will be protected in this process,” the Court said.
Currently the majoritarian, single-mandate constituencies fall within the borders of administrative-territorial division of the country, meaning that each municipality at the same time also represents a single constituency. The capital city, Tbilisi, is an exception, which is divided into ten single-mandate constituencies.
The Constitutional Court said that it might be impossible to provide an “absolute” equality of vote by re-drawing borders of single-mandate districts.
“But the authorities should try to minimize such inequality,” the Court said.
In its Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters, the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal affairs, the Venice Commission, recommends that variation between the size of electoral districts should not be more than 10%, or 15% in “in special circumstances.”
Commenting on the Constitutional Court’s ruling, Parliament Chairman Davit Usupashvili, said on May 28, that the Georgian Dream ruling coalition would present reform plan in the “near future.”
“These provisions [on majoritarian component of the electoral system] are in the election code for about twenty years already. The Georgian Dream had a clear position about it before and after  elections – this is a shortcoming, which has to be addressed. We are working on this and in the near future we will offer to the public next stage of electoral reform,” Usupashvili said.
Several non-parliamentary opposition parties have been campaigning jointly in recent months, demanding reform of the majoritarian component; many of them are calling for replacing it with fully proportional, party-list system, arguing that the majoritarian model favors ruling party.
After series of consultations with non-parliamentary opposition parties and civil society organizations, President Giorgi Margvelashvili announced last month about intention to hold a conference to discuss electoral system reform with particular focus on majoritarian part of the system. The event is scheduled for May 30.
Opponents of the existing system argue that it can potentially produce distribution of seats in Parliament different from those reflected in proportional, party-list election results.
Difference between distribution of seats and votes received in party-list contest was obvious in the previous Parliament, when then ruling UNM party was holding over 79% of seats although receiving slightly over 59% of votes in 2008 parliamentary elections. That was because UNM at the time won all but four single-mandate, majoritarian constituencies across the country.
But it was not the case in 2012 elections, when overall seats won by Georgian Dream coalition and UNM, both in majoritarian and proportional contests, mainly matched share of votes they won in party-list contest.
Mismatch, however, was evident in the 2014 local elections for Tbilisi City Council (Sakrebulo), where a similar system is applied, when although receiving 46% of votes in party-list contest, GD gained 74% of seats in Tbilisi Sakrebulo because of winning all but one single-mandate, majoritarian constituencies of the capital city.