The Georgian parliament approved on December 4 in the first reading hotly disputed amendments to the election law seemingly intended to guarantee a first-round victory for the candidate backed by President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement (ENM) in next year's election to the post of Tbilisi mayor.
Opposition parliament deputy Djondi Baghaturia said after the vote that the ENM parliament faction violated
an informal agreement with minority parties on other key changes to the law.
The most crucial change to the law upholds the ENM's insistence that a candidate need poll only 30 percent plus one vote for a first-round victory. The opposition Alliance for Georgia headed by former Ambassador to the UN Irakli Alasania (who signaled his intention to run for the post of Tbilisi mayor three months ago) initially insisted on a minimum of 50 percent plus one vote, but later voiced its readiness
to accept a 45 percent minimum.
Only individual parties or blocs, but not initiative groups, will have the right to nominate
President Saakashvili on December 5 argued
that the opposition's proposed 30 percent threshold could have enabled an opposition candidate to be elected through what he termed "hate votes," meaning that if the ENM candidate polled the largest number of votes in the first round, but less than 30 percent, opposition candidates might join forces to defeat him in the runoff.
Saakashvili said he had numerous doubts about the expediency of direct elections for Tbilisi mayor, but that "we agreed anyway…because we thought the maximum consensus was required, including with the most radical [opposition] political groups."
But David Berdzenishvili, a leading member of the Republican Party that is a member of the Alliance For Georgia, rejected Saakashvili's argument. Berdzenishvili claimed that the reason the ENM insisted on a 30 percent minimum lies in its dwindling popularity, and he pointed
to recent opinion polls that suggest an ENM candidate would garner no more than 10-15 percent of the vote in Tbilisi.
A second key amendment increases from 37 to 50 the number of seats on the Tbilisi city council. Half will be elected in 10 majoritarian constituencies and the remaining 25 under the proportional system, with a 4 percent minimum threshold. Georgian parliament deputies will have the right to run for the city council without relinquishing their parliamentary mandate. Baghaturia said the opposition reached an oral agreement with the ENM that this would not be the case.
Baghaturia also said the ENM went back on an informal agreement under which the authorities and opposition would be equally represented on election commissions. (The opposition will, however, be empowered to nominate a secretary to each of the precinct commissions.) As before, the president will nominate five members of the Central Election Commission and parliamentary political parties, including the ENM, that polled at least 4 percent of the vote during last year's parliamentary ballot, seven. The president will also nominate three alternative candidates for the post of Central Election Commission chairman.
The ENM rejected an opposition proposal that final vote tallies be endorsed by two-thirds of commission members.
In addition to Alasania and incumbent Mayor Gigi Ugulava, three other political leaders have announced their intention to run for the post of Tbilisi mayor. They are Zviad Dzidziguri (Conservative Party); Koba Davitashvili (People's Party); and David Yakobidze (Democratic Party of Georgia). There is no consensus among opposition parties on holding "primaries" to select a single opposition candidate.