Georgia needs a Parliament Composed of Regions
16 April, 2015
Parliaments always have an easier time discussing small pointlesspolitical issues than big structural issues. But now is exactly thetime to solve one of the biggest problems in Georgia's democracy, the composition of parliament. Georgia's parliament is composed of two different groups each half of the total number of members; the proportional and the majoritarians. The proportional representatives are those who have been elected from a list. The voters pick a party and each party has a list of candidates. The number of votes they receive as a
proportion of the total decides how many proportional candidates from the list will be elected. The majoritarian members run against each other in seventy five specific areas. These areas are the old Soviet raions, or districts, which were an administrative unit in the Soviet Union.

There are several problems with this. The first problem is that raions are not really Georigan, they were created as an administrative convenience in the Soviet Union. Nobody feels that they come from a raion although some raion boundaries match some neighborhood or regional boundaries, most do not. Second, they have very different populations. There are ten times more voters in Zugdidi, Gldani or Kutaisi than there are in Upper Svaneti or Dusheti. This gives the people there an imbalance in representation.

One possibility would be to set new boundaries each ten years so that the population roughly equals each other in the parliamentary districts. The US does this and it is a complete disaster. Voters should pick their representatives. Representatives shouldn't pick their voters. It becomes an extremely political process and there are ways to limit competition by creating crazy boundaries that give advantages to incumbent representatives. This would be a terrible thing for Georgia to do. Also the majoritarians in Georgia's small districts tend to be local bosses. They make deals with families and other businessmen or intimidate them in their areas sometimes in underhanded ways. Sometimes they don't really know their raions well. This happens particularly in the smaller districts with few voters.

The proportional seats in Georgia tend to be filled overwhelmingly people from Tbilisi and tend to be those most powerful within the party. They don't need to keep a constituency happy, they can pursue whatever they want in parliament and have no great need to listen to the public.

A completely majoritarian system as in the UK or US is a bad idea because it will tend to a two party system. It is very common to have a four big parties, two with thirty percent support, two with twenty percent support. But if the parliament in this case is completely majoritarian the third and forth largest party have no representation because everybody will have to vote for the top two parties not to waste their vote. Then one of those parties will get a majority so even though the second most popular party has representation their view may not be taken into account. The problem with a completely proportional system as in Israel is when forty five percent votes for one party, forty five percent votes for another. This happens often. In that case, the fringe parties that get the other ten percent of the votes can hold the parliament hostage to its often strange wishes.

There is a fairly easy way to solve this problem; bring regions back. Rather than having the parliament composed in two parts, all members would get seats the same way. Each traditional historic region would have a certain number of seats. Some regions are bigger than others so would have more seats. Imereti would have more than Guria and Tbilisi more than Kakheti because they have more voters. Then within each of those regions, the parties would present lists of candidates who actually come from that district and depending on the proportion of votes the parties receive in each region candidates would then take seats if their parties received enough votes in that region.

This would do several things to democracy in Georgia. The first is that it would mean voters in Georgia have equal votes which they do not now have. The second thing it would do is to strengthen political parties. Currently the majoritarian representatives tend to float with the wind. If one party becomes more powerful they tend to move to that party, after having used a different party to get into office. The third and maybe most important is that it would focus political attention on the areas outside of Tbilisi. Although the dominant political argument in Georgian society and media tends to be the ruling party verses opposition, the more real one is Tbilisi versus the regions. But right now to be honest, the regions are loosing that argument, too much of the power is in Tbilisi. In a regionally composed parliament, most of the members of parliament would answer to the voters who live outside of Tbilisi.

This simple and easy solution has been on the table for a long time but it can only be implemented close enough to an election that people are thinking about the election but not so close that they are thinking too much about it. The time now is right. Georgia has come a long way in terms of its democracy, it is way ahead of its neighbors. But to keep moving forward, it needs to get rid of some of the old divisions, petty arguments, and the lethargy among some members parliament that we see now. It also needs to take development and the interests of voters outside of the capital more seriously. Now is the time and a truly regional parliament, one that takes full account of Georgia's traditional regions is the answer.