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Presidential Election - 31 October 2020

Georgia's tightly contested election 31 October 2020 pitted opposition parties fronted by exiled former-President Mikhail Saakashvili against the ruling Georgia Dream party, chaired by billionaire former-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. In power since 2012, Georgia Dream's popularity has fallen due to economic stagnation and claims of perceived backsliding on democracy.

Both Georgian Dream and United National Movement are pro-Western, with goals of establishing better relations and possible eventual membership of NATO and the European Union. Incumbent Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia earlier this week said he aimed to bring the ex-Soviet republic closer to the European Union and NATO. "This will be another step forward for Georgian democracy," Gakharia said. Pro-Western Saakashvili, who has lived in exile in Ukraine since 2013 to avoid Georgian prosecution, fronts an opposition coalition comprising his United National Movement (UNM) and some 30 smaller parties.

Under the newly adopted electoral system, 150 MPs are to be elected for four-year terms, with 120 proportionally elected in a single nationwide constituency, through closed party lists, and 30 elected in single-member constituencies.6 Recent amendments, reduced the threshold in the proportional contest for parties from five to one per cent of valid votes cast. In addition, a mandatory gender quota for candidate lists, requiring at least every fourth candidate to be of the opposite sex, was introduced.

On 31 August, in line with the Constitution, the president called parliamentary elections for 31 October. The 2017 constitutional amendments introduced the indirect election of the president starting from 2024, concluding the shift from a presidential to a parliamentary system initiated in 2010. The president serves as the head of state and the prime minister serves as the head of government. Legislative power is vested in the parliament.

The pre-election environment was marked by political and social tensions, and economic challenges amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Tbilisi 20 June 2019, when demonstrators enraged by the visit of a Russian legislator attempted to storm Georgia's parliament building, prompting riot police to fire tear gas and rubber bullets at those rallying. More than 200 people were injured during the clashes and more than 300 demonstrators were arrested, according to officials. The protest reflected simmering anger against Russia, which routed Georgia in a 2008 war and has maintained a military presence in Georgia's two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Subsequent rallies were held outside parliament over recent days, with protesters calling for the release of those held and the resignation of Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia, whom they blame for the violent dispersal of the demonstration.

In a sign of wider political dissatisfaction, the movement has also called for amendments to Georgia's electoral law to have legislators chosen fully proportionally rather than the current mix of party-list and single-mandate representatives. Opposition parties argue the single-mandate races unfairly favour the ruling party and consider Bidzina Ivanishvili - Georgia's richest man after making a fortune in Russia - to be a conduit of Moscow's influence.

Georgian Dream party chief said 24 June 2019 that the 2020 parliamentary elections will be based fully on a proportional system. The leader of Georgia's ruling party has announced a sweeping set of electoral reforms after four days of protests convulsed the capital, Tbilisi. Ivanishvili, founder and leader of the Georgian Dream party, said that the country's next parliamentary election - scheduled for 2020 - will be based entirely on a proportional system, fulfilling a key demand of anti-government protesters. In his first public appearance since the political crisis erupted, Ivanishvili also announced that the threshold of five percent of the vote for parties to be represented would be dropped.

Georgia's Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze said 02 September 2019 he resigned from his post after fulfilling the mandate he was given in 2018. "The purpose and main mandate of my nomination for the post of Prime Minister of Georgia in 2018 was to create and implement a strategic development framework for the country, which would ensure the achievement of our state goals in the coming years, and would become the country's development guide," he wrote. "A strategic development framework has been created, implemented, and therefore I decided to resign because I believe I have fulfilled my mission at this point," he added.

Giorgi Gakharia, who the opposition previously labeled "Moscow's man," was appointed prime minister 08 September 2019. Lawmakers voted 98 to 0 in favor of former Interior Minister Gakharia. He is blamed for orchestrating a violent crackdown against anti-government protesters. Gakharia tried to dismiss the opposition's claims that he has close ties to Moscow by taking aim at Russia's occupation of Georgian breakaway provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. "We all agree that occupation is the biggest problem, the biggest challenge, the greatest evil in our country," said Gakharia. "The most important component of our security dimension is Georgias foreign policy, the countrys pro-Western orientation, and European and Euro-Atlantic integrationThe United States is our main strategic partner and there are no limitations in our cooperation," Gakharia said.

Pursuant to the GD statement on 28 June 2019 to introduce a fully proportional system ahead of the 2020 parliamentary elections, draft constitutional amendments were initiated by 93 members of parliament (MPs) of the ruling party. However, during the vote on 14 November, a constitutional majority was not reached. On 4 December, a group of 29 MPs initiated amendments to the Election Code which failed to gain enough support in the parliament, further fuelling protests.

On 8 March 2020, following lengthy negotiations facilitated by members of the diplomatic community, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the main opposition parties and the ruling party, leading to constitutional amendments adopted in June. These amendments introduced a larger proportional component to the electoral system and lowered the threshold for parties to be represented in parliament. In particular, the reduced threshold for parliamentary representation has increased the apparent competitiveness of the pre-election environment, with many new parties entering the political arena. In line with the Constitution, these will be the last parliamentary elections under a mixed electoral system, with a fully proportional system effective for future elections.

Due to Georgia's complex electoral rules, analysts said the parliament's final make-up might only become clear by late November. r Georgia conducted parliamentary elections under a new electoral system with 120 members of parliament proportionally elected in a single nationwide constituency and 30 elected in single-member constituencies. The reduced threshold of one per cent for parliamentary representation has increased the apparent competitiveness of the pre-election environment, with many new parties entering the political arena. Majoritarian candidates must obtain an absolute majority of votes to be elected; if no candidate wins in the first round, a second round between the top two candidates is held in three weeks.

The legal framework underwent significant amendments in July and September 2020, following a year-long, broad and inclusive consultation process. While many stakeholders welcomed recent amendments as an improvement, some noted remaining shortcomings, and a number of past ODIHR recommendations remain unaddressed. These include the provisions on campaigning, election administration, campaign finance, complaints and appeals process, and recounts and annulments. While the legal framework generally provides a sound basis for the conduct of democratic elections, its effective implementation and enforcement, including of the recent amendments, is key.

The diverse media environment is polarized along political lines and business interests. The Election Code requires the broadcasters to provide fair and impartial coverage of the campaign. Broadcast media are required to allocate free air-time and invite to debates only contestants eligible for public funding. Other parties are entitled to receive a smaller amount of free time only on public media.



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Page last modified: 01-11-2020 13:36:05 ZULU