The two ways to judge the elections
27 September, 2012

The ruling party has insisted that the results as judged by credible international observers must be respected. This seems like a reasonable request. Credible international observers can be defined as those whose funding is clear for all to see.


At the same time, credible international observing organisations are likely to judge the elections in only one way, whether the elections are in accordance with Georgia's election law or perhaps with some particular international norms. The difficulty is with this particular election

law. But at this point, nobody can really mention that because the elections are going ahead and to complain about the election law now seems bitter and backwards looking. The problems with this law get at the heart of the other way to judge an election, namely, "Did who the people voted for take their seats in parliament?" For the people of Georgia, this is a much more important question than whether the elections were held according to the law. It is theoretically possible that there are few violations and the elections are legal but still don't match the second judgement criterion. Like most of the important laws in Georgia, this law is a product of a parliament controlled by a party with a constitutional majority, so that party could and did pass whatever it wanted to. The election law was passed when the Christian Democrats and New Rights broke with the rest of the opposition parties and agreed to agree with the ruling party and let them pass it. There are two key provisions in the law that define it. The first is the 30% threshold for Majoritarian candidates. This means that the winning candidate is the one who gets over 30% of the vote, even if seventy percent of the voters vote against him or her. The normal threshold is 50% as in the French presidential election, so at least half of the voters have to support that candidate; if the vote is split there is a run off two weeks later. This means in Georgia that since in some cases the opposition votes will be split, the ruling party's voters are likely to elect most of the majoritarians. It will be important to see how many ruling party candidates receive between thirty and fifty percent of the vote. The more there are the less authority the new parliament will have. It could be very few, but it could be more than a few.


The second problem with this law is that majoritarians affiliated with parties don't count towards the overall proportional calculation. Seventy seven of the MPs will be drawn from the proportional party lists. But there will be majoritarian candidates which are sponsored by the parties as well. So if the ruling party sweeps the majoritarian races, those MPs don't count when looking at the overall mix of parliament.


Here is an example. Of course there are other parties but things are polarised now and I am assuming for the sake of argument that only two parties will pass the 5% threshold to enter parliament. If the proportional votes are split down the middle 50/50, with Georgian Dream receiving one more vote, then they will get of the proportional votes 39 MPs and the ruling party will get 38. That means that if Georgian Dream doesn't get twelve Majoritarians, the ruling party will still have a constitutional majority and can pass whatever laws it wants. The ratio of the percentage of proportional votes to percentage of total seats will be 50/33.


If the ruling party gets two thirds of the proportional votes, and Georgian Dream gets one third, then the ruling party gets fifty proportional seats and Georgian Dream gets twenty six, and unless Georgian Dream gets twenty five seats then the ruling party still has a constitutional majority. And finally if the Gerogian Dream gets two thirds of the proportional vote but only twenty of the Majoritarian MPs they will still have a minority of overall seats in parliament.


This would of course require that very many voters vote for one party on the one hand, but an individual candidate from a different party. I think this is unlikely. But it is possible and how much it happens will be an important aspect of this election.


These are problems that are caused by this election law and are easy to fix. It is a law designed to give one party complete constitutional majority control of the parliament. This constitutional majority has been a very bad thing, leading the ruling party to ignore warnings about systemic prison abuse, and to in general fail in its role of overseeing the executive. The best time to amend the election law is in the six months after an election when nobody knows what the political scenario will be in the future. A good thing for Georgia's democracy and its economy would be creating a system where power can be shared rather than a 100% turnover of leadership in some future new revolution. Strong democracies and economies need stability. Slow transitions are better than immediate ones. An election law that will allow for that should be the first thing the new parliament considers and passes.