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Georgian President Advocates Direct Mayoral Elections

Parliament deputy chairman Mikheil Machavariani
Parliament deputy chairman Mikheil Machavariani
In his September 24 address to the UN General Assembly, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili delivered an implicit warning to toe the line to two members of the parliamentary faction of his United National Movement who have queried the expediency of direct elections for the post of Tbilisi mayor. Saakashvili affirmed that the Georgian leadership is committed "to the direct election of all mayors in a few months' time." Local municipal council elections and elections for the mayor of Tbilisi are provisionally scheduled for May 30, 2010.

Addressing fellow lawmakers earlier on September 24, Georgian parliament deputy chairman Mikheil Machavariani said he opposes the idea of direct elections for the post of mayor of Tbilisi. He termed that model "imperfect," Caucasus Press reported.

A second United National Movement parliamentarian, Akaki Bobokhidze, likewise rejected the idea, arguing that "the direct elections of the mayor [of Tbilisi] will create many problems in future and the government should return to the issue and reconsider it. Those representatives of the opposition who call for direct elections are inconsistent, as on the one hand they call for the direct election of the mayor, but on the other hand they do not want a president who was elected directly."

Until now, the mayors of all cities and towns were elected by the municipal council. On September 21, seven opposition parties -- the Alliance for Georgia that comprises the Republican Party, the New Rightists and Our Georgia-Free Democrats, together with the Conservative Party, the People's Party, the movement For a United Georgia (headed by former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili), and the Democratic Movement-United Georgia (headed by former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze) -- submitted their proposals for amending the existing legislation to an interparty working group established in early March for that purpose. All those parties had previously refused to participate in the working group.

Their reform proposals included holding direct elections for the mayors of the country's five largest cities: Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi, Rustavi, and Poti. The mayors should be directly elected with 50 percent plus one vote; a runoff would be held if no candidate attained that level of support in the first round.

But Republican Party leader David Berdzenishvili told RFE/RL's Georgian Service on September 22 that the United National Movement objected to those proposals, arguing that only the mayor of Tbilisi should be elected, and that the candidate who polled the greatest number of votes (but not necessarily 50 percent) in the first round would be considered the winner.

The United National Movement then suggested on September 25 at the next working group session that the group should finalize its proposals by late October and submit them for evaluation to the Council of Europe's Venice Commission []. Mamuka Katsitadze of the New Rightists said the possibility of direct mayoral elections was not discussed at that session as the United National Movement is not yet ready to address it.

On September 22, former Georgian Ambassador to the UN Irakli Alasania, who now heads the Alliance for Georgia, announced that he plans to run next year for the post of Tbilisi mayor. Alasania is widely viewed as a potential presidential candidate in 2013, given that Saakashvili is barred by the constitution from running for a third consecutive presidential term.

The seven opposition parties' joint proposed amendments also included electing the Tbilisi municipal council on the proportional system in multi-mandate constituencies; and creating a 21-member arbitration council to resolve election-related disputes. Fourteen of that council's members would be proposed by those parties that surpassed the election threshold in the most recent parliamentary and local elections; three by the Supreme Court and two each by the president and parliament. The council's decisions would require a two-thirds majority.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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