Georgia's ruling party wins parliamentary election

Georgia's ruling party wins parliamentary election
Due to Georgia’s complex election rules, the final composition up of the 150-seat parliament may only become clear by late November.
By bne IntelliNews October 10, 2016

Ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG) scored a comfortable victory in the October 8 parliamentary elections, winning 48.61% of the votes, the country's central elections commission (CEC) said after counting 99.41% of the ballots. Meanwhile, the leading opposition party, United National Movement (UNM), won 27.04% of the votes.

The only other party that came close to reaching the 5% threshold required to make it into parliament was the Alliance of Patriots, which had 4.99% of votes at the time of reporting. Some 51.63% of the 3.5mn registered voters turned out at the polling stations, the CEC said on October 9. The turnout was lower than the 60.8% registered at the previous parliamentary elections in 2012.

UNM and GDDG were expected to receive most of the votes in Saturday's election. Although no reliable polls had been conducted in recent weeks, the two parties were shown to run neck-and-neck in opinion polls conducted over the summer, which also revealed that more than half of the electorate was still undecided. The main factor that could have swayed results in favour of the UNM was the state of the economy, which has experienced a slowing growth in the last two years, and about which Georgians appear discontent.

A former ruling party, UNM oversaw faster economic development compared to the GDDG administration, but it attracted criticism - and the dislike of many Georgians - over widespread abuse of power and polarising rhetoric by its leaders.

The vote was deemed to have been largely free and fair by most international observers, including the EU, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and human rights watchdog Transparency International. The elections were “competitive, well-administered and fundamental freedoms were generally respected” the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said in a preliminary report published on October 8.

Nevertheless, two violent episodes took place in the districts of Marneuli and Zugdidi in southern Georgia on election day. In the former, several police officers were injured after a group attacked the local polling station. In the latter, unknown attackers broke into one of the local polling stations on October 8 after voting had ended, scattering ballot papers and smashing elections equipment. The attackers physically assaulted local election staff and observers from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, reported.

Transparency International reported some 70 irregularities in the voting process related to issues like polling stations opening late, election commission members refusing to participate in the ballot draw process, voters with expired identification cards being allowed to vote, multiple people being allowed to enter booths at the same time and observers being temporarily barred from entering voting stations in four districts.

This year's elections are the last in which Georgia will use the existing dual electoral system, in which voters cast two ballots. One is for a party in a nationwide vote, electing 77 lawmakers from among the candidates that are included on party lists. Another ballot is for individual lawmakers in 73 constituencies. Between seven and 16 candidates per constituency have registered for the latter ballot. In order for them to win the election in the first round, the candidates would have to secure at least 50% of the votes. If they do not secure a simple majority, a run-off would be scheduled within a month.

Thanks to its victory in the party race, GDDG has secured a majority of the 77 seats allocated based on party lists. The seats will be allocated on a proportional basis. In the single-constituency races, the party won 22 seats in the first round. However, since no clear winner (over 50% of votes) emerged in 51 constituencies, there will be runoffs. If GDDG candidates win 42 of the runoff races – GDDG has candidates registered in 50 of them – the party would secure a constitutional majority of 113 seats in parliament. On October 9, the party's secretary, Irakli Kobakhidze, said that he was “convinced” that the party would manage to secure victories in all 50 runoff races in which it has candidates running, reported.