Interview with American expert on Georgia, Lincoln Mitchell.
- Georgia’s Constitutional Reform Commission has prepared the amendments. The draft of the Constitutional amendments includes the banning the parties from forming the blocs ahead of elections, while the 5% threshold is maintained. In addition, it includes introduction of the fully proportional, instead of current mixed proportional/majoritarian system and the votes of the parties that fail to cross the threshold would go to the winner. In your opinion, will these changes reduce the possibility of creating a multi-party parliament in the future?
-There are three different proposals here. Together, they will make it harder for a meaningful multi-party parliament to emerge. Banning blocs means that smaller parties will have no choice but to run as individual parties. Many of these parties will miss the 5% threshold. The easy way to alleviate this problem is for small parties to dissolve and form bigger parties, as opposed to election time blocs. However, Georgian parties have been painfully unable to do this in the past. The idea of giving votes of parties that do not cross the threshold to the winner has no political or legal justification is patently undemocratic and is a terrible idea.
Switching to a fully proportional system would not be a bad idea on its own, but in the context of these other changes will contribute to the problem.
-According to the draft the President would be elected by the 300-member college of electors, which would include 150 MPs, as well as local and regional government representatives. According to experts, the new version of the constitution does not contribute to the balance between the branches of the government. Would you agree this opinion?
- I have written many times that if Georgia has a President, that President should be directly elected. This idea is part malignant and part pointless. It creates complexity and confusion for no apparent reason other than a dislike among many in the ruling party for the current President.
-The opposition criticized the Constitutional amendments prepared by the parliamentary majority; according to them, instead of strengthening democracy in the country, the Georgian Dream has only strengthened its power. Would you agree this opinion?
- I have to agree with this assessment. It is striking that the Georgian Dream would move so quickly to do this after four years of steady, if sometimes stop and go, progress on democracy related issues. These changes will set democracy back, but will also contribute to a destructive environment of constant rule changes and constitutional tinkering.
- If these Constitutional amendments enter into force, what reality will be created in Georgia?
- Ultimately, it could contribute to political instability as voters will have a decreasing impact on who sits in parliament and what laws are passed. It will also consolidate the rule of a governing party that is very diverse in its views and policy approaches. This will create a situation where major governance decisions will be by the ruling party internally rather than in transparent places like parliament.
- What would you advise the government and the opposition in this situation?
- I would advise the government to stop tinkering with the constitution. I would advise the opposition to come up with a message that resonates with the Georgian people.