The proposed change in the rules for electing the CEC chairperson and professional members is another violation of the April 19 agreement
On December 14, the Committee of Legal Affairs voted in favor of the amendments to the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament of Georgia in the first reading, according to which the rules for electing the Chairperson and professional members of the Central Election Commission will be changed.
The proposed changes will simplify the process of electing a CEC chairperson/professional members and if previously it was required to hold four votings, now only two votings will be enough. In particular: at first, the support of at least two-thirds of the full membership of Parliament is required. If the number of such candidates turns out to be more than the number to be elected, the candidate with the best results among them will be considered elected, and if the winner is not determined due to the equality of votes received by the candidates, another ballot will be held immediately to determine the winner. If all vacancies are not filled by voting, the remaining candidates who won the support of a majority of the full membership of Parliament in the last ballot will be voted again. In the re-election, the candidate who will be supported by the majority of the full composition of the Parliament will be considered elected. The amendment also abolishes the deadline set in the period between voting.
According to the explanatory note of the proposed amendments, the current voting rule, along with the Parliamentary opposition of the candidates, failed to encourage consensus bases election and only delayed the process.
According to ISFED, the proposed changes are intended to speed up and facilitate the ruling party's unilateral decision-making process, rather than focus on trying to reach an agreement. This is another setback from the April 19 agreement, the spirit of which was to promote cooperation between the parties, to encourage the agreement. Individual decisions by the ruling party about the personnel, especially on sensitive issues such as the recruitment of professional members of the Central Election Commission, do not contribute to the consolidation of democracy in the country.
On April 19, 2021, through the mediation of the President of the Council of Europe Charles Michel, one of the important issues of the agreement reached between the parties was to staff the CEC with a high quorum, which aimed to support consensus and cooperation between the parties. Under the agreement, changes were made to the legislation, which required the support of 2/3 of the full membership of Parliament to elect a CEC chairperson and professional members for a five-year term. In the absence of such support, three ballots with different quorums shall be considered. A simple majority is sufficient to select a candidate at the last ballot. The term of office of a chairperson/member elected by a low quorum is 6 months. According to the temporary rule for electing a person to a vacant position at the CEC before the 2021 Municipal elections, the four-week interval between voting sessions has been reduced to one week.
The number of voting, including the interval between them, was intended to reach a consensus between the parties and to allow time for negotiations. In the current experience, in 2021, Parliament, under an accelerated regime, held 3 ballots with only a few days interval. Selecting the nominated candidates two times with 2/3 of support and 3/5 of support the third time didn’t occur. A majority of the full Parliament was enough to elect candidates in the last, fourth ballot. Consequently, the ruling party was able to secure the required number of votes. It should be noted that the one-week interval set by law between the polls was not observed.
ISFED is still committed to assessing the composition of the CEC, stating that under the April 19 agreement, the change in the rules for electing the CEC Chairperson and members should be reflected in the multi-party support of the candidates. The recent process of electing the chairperson/members confirmed that no substantial effort had been made to select a candidate acceptable to a wide range of political parties, given the possibility of a simple majority decision.
Given the need to promote cooperation between the parties and reduce polarization, ISFED calls for:
· The ruling party to show the political will to make a consensus-based decision instead of focusing on speeding up and simplifying the process.
· The opposition to get involved in the process of selecting the CEC chairperson and professional members, to nominate and consider a candidate acceptable to all, in order to contribute to the achievement of the main goal - to increase confidence in the CEC