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During a public discussion on constitutional amendments in Ozurgeti, a member of the Parliamentary Majority, Archil Talakvadze, spoke about the issue of presidential elections. Mr Talakvadze stated:

“Presidential elections have spurred a lot of controversies. Do we want a president to be elected? We can always get a yes answer to this question but we have to understand what is behind this question. In today’s Europe, there is only one country, perhaps, which has a parliamentary system of government and a directly elected president.”

FactCheck

took interest in this issue.

According to Article 70 of the current Constitution of Georgia, the President of Georgia is elected on the basis of universal, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot.

After the proposed constitutional amendments are enacted, the direct election rule of Georgia’s president will be abolished and he will be elected by a specially established electoral college. Specifically, in accordance with Article 50 of the draft amendments,

the president will be elected by the aforementioned electoral college which will be composed of MPs, all of the deputies of the supreme councils of Georgia’s autonomous republics and electors (300 electors in total) named by political parties as a result of the most recent local elections.

The explanatory note to the draft amendments names the imbalance between the legitimacy of the president and his actual power as the principal argument for switching to the indirect election method. Of note is that Georgia’s Constitutional Commission has not even discussed the possible restoration of the balance by increasing presidential powers. On the contrary – the draft amendments envision the curbing of presidential powers even further.

At the same time, the Parliamentary Majority seeks to assert that the parliamentary system of government automatically requires the indirect presidential election rule. FactCheck sought to further understand the process in which presidents are elected in those European countries which have a parliamentary system of government and presidents with limited powers. Of additional note is that there is no clear watershed between the parliamentary and semi-presidential systems of government. As a result, the model of some specific country could be characterised differently in different sources. In this article, FactCheck has employed the data

of the US Central Intelligence Agency.

FactCheck’s research demonstrated that the head of state is directly elected in the majority of those European countries which have a parliamentary system of government (as well as a system which is close to the parliamentary one). These countries are the following: Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Iceland, Montenegro, Macedonia, Slovakia, Austria, the Czech Republic and Ireland.

There are bicameral parliaments in Austria, the Czech Republic and Ireland which means that even if these countries had opted for the indirect presidential election format, a high level of democracy would have been guaranteed. However, despite this safeguard these countries decided to elect their presidents directly.

There are countries with parliamentary systems of government where presidents are indirectly elected. In these cases, however, we have to pay attention to whom exactly elects the president. We can outline several cases in this regard:

  1. Election of the President by Legislative Organ – In this case, we have to differentiate whether a parliament is unicameral or bicameral. The election of the president by the unicameral parliament is considered as the least democratic form because the decision is affected by the parliamentary majority and, most likely, the president would be the champion of the majority’s interests rather than being their real leader. Under the bicameral parliament, where there is an independent chamber of regional representatives, this threat is reduced. This fact is emphasised in the research published by International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED). The research reads: “Different terms of the chambers and the periodic renewal of personnel ensures a higher level of representation as well as a reflection of differing and wider spectrum positions by electors of the president.” Unicameral parliaments elect presidents in Albania and Estonia. Of note is that if the Parliament of Estonia fails to elect a president in three consecutive rounds, the president will be elected by the electoral college which includes MPs and local self-government delegates.
  2. Election of the President by MPs and Regional RepresentativesLatvia, Italy. Of note is that there is a bicameral parliament in Italy which increases the level of representativeness among the electors and in turn enhances the legitimacy of the president elected in this manner.
  3. Election of the President by Specially Established BodyGermany.
The standards of democracy envisioned in Georgia’s draft constitutional amendments are of particular interest. According to the draft law, the president will be elected indirectly, although not by the unicameral parliament alone but by a collegial organ where, apart from MPs, regional representation will also be guaranteed. Non-governmental organisations (ISFED, GYLA, TI, OSGF) declared in their joint assessment

to the Venice Commission: “This model may ensure that different political groups will be involved in the election of the president ensuring that diverse political opinions are represented. However, this is not guaranteed because according to the Georgian practice the same party dominates the Parliament and local self-government representative bodies. This reality stems from the deficiencies in the local self-government electoral system that allows the ruling party to have more mandates than it deserves based on voter support leading to the monopolisation of power by one party.”

The level of legitimacy of the parliament (150 MPs) represented in the electoral college needs to be taken into account. The combination of the proposed amendments (a new rule in the distribution of parliamentary mandates – the winner takes it all keeping a 5% election threshold) might seriously question the legitimacy of the parliament. Therefore, if the president is elected by the electoral college, where a low-level legitimacy majority constitutes its bulk, it cannot be considered as a high standard of democracy.

It is still unclear when the rule for an indirect presidential election will come into force. Specifically, after the ruling party announced the alteration of the presidential election rule, there was a suspicion among the public that the real motive behind the change was the existing confrontation between the incumbent president and the ruling party. However, as clarified by the Speaker of the Parliament, in order to prove these suspicions groundless, the ruling party is ready to enforce the new rule in 2023 and not for the next elections (2018). After the President of Georgia criticised the ruling party for some issues, the ruling party reminded

the President that the final decision was still pending and it was possible to launch the indirect election rule from 2018.

Conclusion The European countries named in FactCheck’s research which have parliamentary systems of government also directly elect their presidents. FactCheck

has identified ten such countries. At the same time, in those countries where the president is elected indirectly, a high level of representativeness among the electors is guaranteed to a maximum possible extent.

In the case of Georgia, the president will be indirectly elected by a specially established college instead of a unicameral parliament. Nevertheless, the composition of the current parliament, as well as the problems which were detected during the local elections and led to the ruling party’s domination, will not ensure a high level of legitimacy of a president elected in the aforementioned manner.

FactCheck concludes that Archil Talakvadze’s statement is FALSE.