(Aug. 20, 2020) On June 29, 2020, the president of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili, signed a new law amending the Constitution of Georgia to change the election system and electoral process in the country. (Constitutional Law, No. 6500-RS, On the Amendments to the Constitution of Georgia.) The amendments to the Constitution were published on the same day in the Official Gazette of Georgia and entered into force upon publication. (Constitutional Amendments art. 2.)
The Parliament of Georgia adopted the constitutional amendments with the support of 117 lawmakers (113 votes being required) from the ruling Georgian Dream party. The opposition factions—the United National Movement and European Georgia—did not take part in the vote, claiming that the ruling party had only partially fulfilled its obligations as brokered by the diplomatic community on March 8, 2020.
Provisions of the Amendments
Georgia has a mixed electoral system under which part of the Parliament is elected by a proportional representation system through political party/bloc lists and part is elected by a “single mandate” (ertmandatiani) representation system, according to which one person is elected from each electoral district by majority vote. The newly adopted amendments provide that the distribution of seats in the next (tenth) convocation of the 150-seat Parliament will be changed from 77 seats elected proportionally from party/bloc lists to 120 seats, and from 73 seats elected by the single mandate system to 30 seats. This system will apply to the 2020 and 2024 parliamentary elections and to any election conducted in between. (Art. 1, § 8.) The new provision did not change the current four-year term of office.
The amendment also introduces a change for the “election threshold”—the minimum percentage of votes cast for parties that is required to enable a party to enter Parliament—which from now on is set at 1% of all votes for the parties participating in an election. (Art. 1, § 2.)
The constitutional amendment also establishes a 40% “locker,” which means that to form a new government, a political party or block must consolidate at least 40% of the newly elected members of Parliament (MPs). Additionally, starting from 2024, parliamentary elections must be held with a fully proportional system. (Art. 1, § 3.)
Changes to Election Legislation
On July 2, 2020, following its passage of the June 29 amendments to the Constitution, the Parliament of Georgia passed the Bill on Amendments to the Election Code of Georgia, which the president then signed into law.
The amendments to the Election Code of Georgia, the country’s main law governing elections and the electoral process, cover a wide range of issues, including elevating gender quotas, prohibiting the use of administrative resources (i.e., employees of noncommercial and legal entities founded by central or local government bodies are banned from campaigning during working hours), and establishing new rules for financing political parties.
Under the new amendments, the current female gender quota in Parliament must be raised so that in the next elections, at least 25% of the 120 seats being contested must be reserved for women, those 30 seats thus constituting 20% of the 150-member legislative body. The amendments further provide that in every parliamentary election until 2028, each group of four individuals in a party’s list must have at least one individual of a different gender (Amendments to the Election Code art. 203, § 2), and for elections from October 2028 onward, each group of three persons in a party’s list must include a female (art. 203, § 4).
Changes to the financing of political parties were made through amendments to the Law on Political Associations of Citizens of Georgia, the governing law of Georgia regulating the funding of political parties. Under the newly adopted amendments, a political party that receives at least 1% of the votes cast in the most recent election is eligible for state funding. A party must receive 15 Georgian lari (GEL) (about US$4.86) in financing every year for each vote above 50,000, as well as an additional GEL5 annually for each additional vote. (Amendments to the Law on Political Associations art. 30, §§ 1, 2 & 3.) Failing to comply with the statutory obligation to submit a report on election campaign funding and/or submitting a report on election campaign funding containing inaccurate data may lead to a warning or a fine of GEL1,000 (about US$320) for an independent candidate and GEL5,000 for a political party. (Art. 30, § 5.)
Political Events Preceding the Amendments
The amendments to the constitution were introduced as the result of a political crisis that started in June 2019 when, as a compromise to a conflict over the election system, the ruling Georgian Dream party suggested to the opposition that constitutional amendments be adopted that would abolish the majoritarian system of elections and replace it with a party-list system of elections.
In a subsequent vote on the amendments on November 14, 2019, some MPs from the ruling Georgian Dream party reneged on their promise to support the amendments and voted against them, resulting in their defeat. A serious political crisis ensued, which was resolved on March 8, 2020, by a deal brokered by representatives of Georgia’s diplomatic community.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) welcomed the adopted changes to the Georgian legislation, stating that, “[a]s a result of the adoption of these Constitutional amendments, the system for the next elections in 2020 will now also be far more proportional than it was previously, which potentially could allow for a more pluralist and representative parliament. We strongly welcome this.”