17 November 2009

Local Elections 2010 (I)

Local elections are to be held next year, tentatively on 30 May, and negotiations regarding new electoral rules are underway. Local elections are not only important for their contribution (at least in principle) to local government, they are also a dress rehearsal for the 2012 and 2013 parliamentary and presidential elections. The electoral campaign, election day, and the postelectoral count and handling of appeals will all be indications of government and political party commitment to democratic practices. No less significantly, local elections -- particularly for the Tbilisi city council and mayoral races -- will define many of the leading actors in the next national elections.

There are a few pressing issues. The first -- which I'm surprised has received so little attention -- is the matter of officially setting an election date. Local elections were supposed to be held in the fall, but as a concession to opposition parties, the government offered to hold early elections in the spring (30 May, just over six months from now). However, no date has been officially fixed. According to the electoral code,  the date of an early local government election is tied to the date that local government bodies will be dissolved. In principle, this means that the president can keep opposition parties guessing as to the official date of elections by announcing a snap dissolution and -- as mandated by law -- schedule new elections within 45 days, leaving parties (and election administrations and monitors) little time to prepare. There is a precedent for this kind of politics -- in the 2006 elections, the government took full advantage of its right to set the date of local elections just 40 days in advance. If the government is committed to holding local elections on 30 May, a more formal declaration is in order.

Personally, I'm not convinced that moving the schedule up for local elections is really that useful an idea (and at the time it wasn't really taken to be much of a compromise). The "Code of Good Practice" of the Council of Europe's Venice Commission suggests that no amendments to electoral laws should be introduced within one year of an election. Given the extensive reworking of local election rules that is underway, a 12-month period is probably appropriate. Still, none of the parties that plan to participate in local elections appear to object so far to the early date.

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