Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why the government will win the elections, and win big

Georgia’s next elections are on May 21, and odds are the government will win a two-thirds majority in parliament.

For those just tuning in, these elections were brought forward after the crisis in November. That month, after weeks of anti-government protests, riot police beat demonstrators and ransacked an opposition TV station before a state of emergency was declared. The president called a snap presidential election as an outlet for tensions, and to shore up his battered mandate.

Tensions eased, but not by much: Mikheil Saakashvili won reelection, but the opposition said the victory was rigged. Many voters agreed, particularly in the capital. In that poll, voters also supported a referendum to hold the next parliamentary elections this spring. A significant minority suspect these will be dodgy too.

There will be a government victory, and there will be protests.

Here’s why:

Long-planned changes mean parliament is shrinking from 235 seats to 150. Controversial amendments in March divided those seats in two, the halves elected through parallel systems: 75 seats by country-wide voting on party lists, and 75 by voting for local candidates in single-mandate districts. (More on that in a moment.)

The ruling National Movement is at 52 percent support with likely voters, according to a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll done in late April, with 12 percent undecided. GQR projects the National Movement will pick up 5 points from those undecideds on election day.

The DC-based GQR is advising the government’s campaign. It outsourced the fieldwork to local firm ACT. The opposition say both are biased, and skeptics suggest the results are a guideline for vote-riggers. But GQR very neatly called the January presidential election, so for our intents and purposes it doesn’t matter whether the poll is entirely kosher. It can be assumed to be reasonably accurate in predicting final results.

If the National Movement does get 57 percent on election day, as GQR predicts, they will likely end up with 105-109 seats in total, or more than seven in ten seats in parliament.

In fact, by my count, the ruling party could get away with as little as 44 percent of the total vote, and still carry a two-thirds majority in parliament.

How? Here are the details, with apologies for the wonkiness:

Half of the 150-seat parliament is elected by nation-wide voting on closed party lists. Parties must get at least five percent of the vote to enter parliament. Once in, seats are calculated in a crude proportional manner: a party’s percentage of the total vote multiplied by the 75 available seats.

(According to the Central Election Commission’s legal department, all fractions of a seat will be lopped off and the whole number used. (E.g. 4.4 seats and 4.6 seats both become four seats.) The leftover seats are allocated one by one to the parties which make it into parliament, starting with the highest vote-getter.

The language in the election code is ambiguous, but a CEC spokesman said there is no dispute over interpretation.)

There are 12 parties or blocs in the elections, four or five of which are viable: the ruling National Movement, the nine-party opposition coalition (United National Council), the recently-formed Christian Democratic Party, the populist Labor Party and possibly the moderate Republicans.

If the National Movement gets 57 percent in the party list voting and, as the GQR poll suggests, six percent goes to parties which don’t clear the bar, the ruling party wins 42 seats + 1. If the Republicans don’t make it into parliament, the National Movement would get 44 of the 75 proportionally-allocated seats.

Now we come to the “majoritarian” seats, which are elected from 75 single-representative districts. The ruling party will sweep these.

Almost every one of these 75 districts pits a government candidate against at least two viable opposition candidates, and often four or five. (The exception is Tsageri district, where the ruling party incumbent withdrew from the race and cannot be replaced.)

Voters are polarized: there’s pro-government, and there’s anti-government. Opposition parties are trying to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack by trading accusations of collusion with the government, but the net effect is a muddle of opposition parties on one side, and the government on the other.

A majoritarian candidate needs a minimum of 30 percent to win without a runoff—so you will see the opposition splitting the vote across Georgia, leaving the ruling party candidate ahead and, in most cases, with a victory on a plurality of the vote.

(This is one of two reasons the opposition cried foul when the government introduced this system in March. The second is that less-populated rural areas will, overall, have more majoritarian representatives than densely populated—and opposition-friendly—urban areas like Tbilisi.

There are also two stories on how these constitutional amendments made it through: the government says the opposition missed a chance to pass their favored ‘regional proportional’ system by boycotting a parliament session. Opposition politicians say the government pulled a bait-and-switch on them, rewriting the amendments’ language literally hours before the vote. Someone is lying.)

Outside of Tbilisi, there are a handful of districts which will go to the opposition:

Dusheti, which gave to the world Shalva Natelashvili, the Labor leader, voted for Shalva in the presidential election and will vote him into parliament on May 21.

Tsageri, now missing its incumbent, will probably go to Goga Asatiani of the UNC.

Districts potentially in play include: Tianeti, Akhmeta, Kutaisi, Batumi and all of Tbilisi. Chiatura, Mestia and Chkorotsku have incumbents running with the opposition, and Guria region could be up for grabs.

The next blog post will look more closely at these and other district match-ups.

For now, I’d say the opposition gets 10–13 of these seats, with the faint possibility of more if their GOTV effort can force runoffs.

This leaves the government with 62–65 of the majoritarian districts. At most they need only 38 seats from the party list voting—50 or 49 points, depending on how the Republicans fare—for a tenuous supermajority.

44 points and the Republicans missing the five percent bar could still mean two-thirds of parliament for the National Movement. And they could poll as low as 14 percent on election day but walk away with more than half the seats.

That’s one prediction. The second is this: there will be post-election protests—that much is written in stone—and demonstrators will not be happy if they see the government carrying half the vote but winning two-thirds of parliament.

Hang on to your hats.


At May 13, 2008 at 5:02 PM , Blogger HansG said...


I think your analysis seems very persuasive (I haven't done any any arithmetic on the likely distribution of seats, but certainly the overall picture seems right).

The irony is that many government supporters agree that a constitutional majority would be bad news...

I'm not sure there will be extensive protests. I think overall that sentiment has run out of steam, and lacks popular/credible leadership.


At May 15, 2008 at 6:50 PM , Blogger jibs said...


If I can propose a simpler approach: whatever the ruling party receives + the amount of votes needed to be in majority in the parliament -- these votes would be likely contributed from the "irregularities that are normal for young democracies".

otherwise what was the point of committing those irregularities in January?

jibs (blogs.tol.org/conflicts)

At May 15, 2008 at 8:30 PM , Blogger jibs said...


Here are some of the irregularities already noted. I wonder if these people think no one is watching or that no one cares... On the background of so much attention to Georgia - drone downings, war rhetoric, NATO aspirations, etc. how can one afford to intimidate the voters? Wasn't this supposed to be the "Rosy Beacon of Democracy?"

For some reason, tentions with russia get way more coverage than things like these... anyways...


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