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Georgian Parties Sign Election-Reform Memorandum After Months Of Talks

Electoral reform, among other issues, brought Georgians out onto the streets in June 2019.
Electoral reform, among other issues, brought Georgians out onto the streets in June 2019.

Leaders of Georgia’s ruling and opposition parties have agreed to a deal on election reforms after months of foreign-brokered talks and sometimes violent public unrest.

The March 8 agreement “represents a crucial step towards depolarization and normalization of the political environment in Georgia in the run-up to the parliamentary elections later this year,” the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi said.

Opposition parties have complained that Georgia's current electoral system unfairly favors the ruling Georgian Dream party. Changing it to a proportional one from 2020 was one of the demands of the thousands of demonstrators who rallied for weeks in Tbilisi in June and July 2019.

A memorandum of understanding signed on March 8 says the two sides agreed that parliament will consist of 120 members elected through a proportional voting system, while 30 members will be elected through a majority system, where the party or candidate winning more than 50 percent of the vote in a constituency is awarded the contested seat.

It also says that the electoral threshold for proportional elections will be set at 1 percent and that 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 to the national share of the vote that a party wins.

This led to Georgian Dream, led by its billionaire founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, winning 76 percent of the legislature’s seats even though it won just less than half of the popular vote.

“Further caps and provisions will be introduced in the legislation with the aim of facilitating a more proportional distribution of mandates relative to the votes received by the parties,” the memorandum says.

The United States and the European Union had called on the Georgian government, political parties, and civil society to engage in a "calm and respectful dialogue" after the protests, which were suppressed forcefully by law enforcement officers.

“Now key is implementation -- making [the] 2020 election [the] most free and fair ever!” said Kurt Volker, a foreign-policy expert and former executive director of the McCain Institute, on Twitter.

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