25 November 2009

Local Elections 2010 (III)

So the UNM is sticking to its position that the mayor of Tbilisi should be elected with a 30% threshold, with party leaders intent on moving discussion away from the interparty working group to parliament.

First, let's tackle the question of compromise, which I still believe is the critical aspect to electoral code reform, moreso than the substance of the compromise itself. Defending the UNM's decision to cut short the working group discussions, MP Akaki Minashvili (ex-director of the Liberty Institute NGO and a former Kmara youth movement leader) argued that the threshold dispute should not be taken in isolation. The ruling party has already compromised by agreeing to an expansion of the Tbilisi city council with new election rules (25 party-list, 25 single mandate), something which increases the likelihood that more parties will be represented in the city council, and selection of the CEC chairperson by opposition CEC members (out of a list of 3 nominated by the president). Given such concessions, Minashvili says, the Alliance should reciprocate by accepting the proposed 30% threshold.

To this point, I could add that a 30% threshold is more consistent with the compromise rule parties have provisionally agreed upon for the election of city council deputies, who are to be elected by a simple plurality. If city deputies are to have limited political (as opposed to administrative/legal) legitimacy by virtue of this low bar, why should the mayor have so much more?

On the other hand, this is why a 40% threshold still seems to me a reasonable compromise between two politically-motivated positions. The other compromises are theoretically neutral (the first, definitely; the second, presumably, but what if the president proposes 3 obviously unacceptable candidates?). On the threshold, however, the UNM presumably supports 30% because it believes its candidate has a good chance to win outright with 30% of the vote, especially in a multi-candidate contest. (Any new public opinion polls on this?)

It appears, however, that another UNM objection to a high threshold is along the lines of the point I made earlier -- that a 50% threshold will become a political tool in the hands of a victorious opposition. The UNM does not to want to risk a scenario by which an opposition candidate wins the mayoral election with a majority vote and proceeds to use his/her popular mandate as a vehicle to try and unseat the ruling party in contentious ways rather than focusing on properly governing Tbilisi.

How exactly this might happen is worth speculating upon. In the runup to national elections, would an opposition-run City Hall condone or facilitate the kind of mass protests that are now illegal (more on that timely issue in a future post), or at least refuse to implement the recently-amended law on assembly, potentially creating a "revolutionary" situation of dual power between city and national governments? Will it foster and use its own administrative resources to help steer the vote in national elections? Will it seek to create an atmosphere of crisis in an effort to demonstrate that the ruling party has lost its ability to govern?

Theoretically, all these outcomes are possible, especially considering the opposition's efforts to foster a revolutionary environment on the streets of Tbilisi last summer. However, its not clear, first of all, that a 30% threshold would somehow dampen the efforts of a victorious Tbilisi mayor who was already inclined toward radicalizing the post. Second, likely opposition mayoral candidates are hardly all in the "radical" camp; it is hard to imagine someone like Irakly Alasania, the most viable nonparliamentary opposition candidate participating in the working group, using his post to destabilize the situation "from within."
In the end, perhaps there would be a risk of confrontation between the Tbilisi and national authorities -- even one that in the context of future mass protests dangerously raises the question of who has the right to control the streets. However, that's a challenge democratic state-building ought to willingly grapple with, isn't it? Not one it should seek to avoid.

I'm still not convinced that the direct election of the Tbilisi mayor is necessary or desirable -- the current system, introduced in 2006, provides for mayors that are indirectly elected by city councils. This was undeniably a democratic advance from the old system of appointed mayors, and there's a lot going for this system in the evolving Georgian context. Moreover, if this rule is going to stay in place for the rest of Georgia's city elections, its not at all clear why the Tbilisi election rules should diverge.

Perhaps more on that in another post, as well as some thoughts on the amended law on protests and its recent utilization (or mis-utilization?) in the case of the three demonstrators in front of parliament.

P.S. As I've mentioned before, I invite comments -- not only publicly but by email at democraticgeorgia@gmail.com. If you email me, please specify whether you want me to directly post your comments (attributing you or, by my judgment, anonymously) or whether you just want to offer corrections/clarifications/thoughts to incorporate as I see fit (without attribution). Either form is perfectly welcome. I recognize that many informed readers may not want or be able to post public comments.


  1. Surely the issue is that Misha announced the direct election of mayors in parliament and then at the UN when he was under pressure. Now he's not so much under pressure his party is doing all it can to make the pledges meaningless.

    The opposition has more votes than the UNM in *all* Georgia's cities - look at the results of the January 2008 election and you can see that clearly.

    In a fair election it would be likely that the UNM would lose all the cities and the UNM is simply not prepared to share power. That's the real problem with Georgian politics: the lack of an understanding that elections mean you win some, you lose some.

    All the supposed vehicles for increased opposition participation - such as the security council and now the NDI process - have been treated as nothing more than grand PR activities by Misha. He's just not serious.

    Frankly, the US and the EU have to grip this and tell him that he can forget more money unless he cleans up his act. Frankly a public smackdown by Biden on live TV in Georgia, as opposed to the coded presentation we got, back in July would have made a huge difference and it was a major mistake not to have done it: of course it could and should have been coupled with telling the opposition that the era of street politics was over.

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