The selection of an electoral system is quite private and a matter of consensus of political actors in sovereign countries, but there are several international standards that should be applied while choosing an electoral system. The Council of Europe, through the Venice Commission, declares that elections should be:

  • Universal;
  • Equal;
  • Free;
  • Secret;
  • Direct;

Even though the Venice Commission does not recommend any electoral system as such, each system should be in conformity with the above-mentioned internationally recognized standards. Elections should be held periodically, within reasonable time periods, and the results should demonstrate the electorate’s attitudes. Furthermore, the electoral system should provide:

  • Equality of vote;
  • Representation of ethnical minorities;
  • Gender equality;
  • Fairness between the participants of election;

It is interesting to review electoral systems reforms in other countries, as well as problems and challenges with regard to Georgia and the similar issues it is facing right now in the light of the electoral system reform.

In Georgia, there are both supporters and opponents of the current majoritarian system. Some believe that governing political parties always benefit from this system and that it does not guarantee the regional representation it promises. Others say the majoritarian system does allow regional representation in Parliament.

In order to conduct this study of the international context we selected three countries that recently reformed, or are in the process of reforming, their electoral systems. This led to a comparison of majoritarian, proportional and mixed systems, and the challenges they pose in the respective countries.

Discussing this issue was also on the agenda of the Ukrainian Parliament, the Rada, which led to the adoption of a law on the formation of the Supreme Rada. According to this new law they can refuse to hold parliamentary elections on the basis of a proportional system. Instead it proposes a mixed system: the Proportional-Majoritarian system. Half of the 450 mandates in Parliament will be distributed through majoritarian election districts, the other 225 MPs will be elected through a proportional system.

The election threshold was also increased. Political parties have to get over 5 % of the votes instead of the existing 3 % now. Also, political blocks no longer have the right to participate in the elections.

It is possible for a candidate to be included in both majoritarian and proportional election lists. In such a case, the candidate should either reach the minimal threshold according to the majoritarian election rule (majority of election participants) or the political party should receive over 5% of the votes to earn a mandate in the Rada through the proportional list.

It is noteworthy that the position of the ruling party on the mixed electoral system was considered during the reform of the Ukrainian electoral system.

Ukrainian experts believe that by keeping a pure proportional system, the majority of the Rada would be obtained by representatives of the opposition. The opposition suggested a proportional system which uses open lists, an idea that was also proposed by the Venice Commission. However, they were prepared to support a proportional system without the open lists as well.

Eventually, a mixed electoral system was agreed upon for the Ukraine. In the opinion of the Thomas Markert, Secretary of the Venice Commission, the mixed majoritarian-proportional system is being used in several European countries. However, taking into account the negative experience of Ukraine with such a system in the past it would not have been recommended by the Venice Commission.

In 2008, the Constitutional Court of Germany declared part of the German electoral system to be unconstitutional. The Court rejected the provision which allowed parties to receive more mandates than votes.

According to the German electoral system, each voter casts two votes. The first vote is for a single mandate election district, in which a successful candidate gets the simple majority of votes, the second vote is for parties. If the number of successful candidates in a singe mandate district exceeds the number of successful candidates from the party’s list, additional mandates are transferred to this party. According to this rule, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union obtained 24 more mandates than it deserved according to the votes received.

The Court stated that the selection of an electoral system should be a matter of consensus between political parties and it called upon the ruling and opposition parties to take the Court’s decision into account.

Nevertheless, the ruling coalition could not reach an agreement and in 2011 the Bundestag adopted an amendment in the electoral legislation without considering the opposition’s opinion. Because of this Social Democrats, the German Green Party and 3 000 voters took their complaint to the Constitutional Court, which declared the norm unconstitutional.

In Romania, after the fall of the Communist regime, a proportional closed party system was introduced as the electoral system. It had a low electoral threshold and guaranteed representation of the country’s minorities in Parliament. Since then several changes made have affected Romania’s electoral system in favour of the majoritarian system.

At present, Romanian politicians are engaged in active discussions about the majoritarian and proportional systems. In this case, as well as in other post-Soviet countries, the ruling party supports a majoritarian system.

In Romania the electoral threshold was increased up to 5% from 3% and from 8% to 10% for party blocks. The proportional representative system was changed, parts of the majoritarian system were added and a mixed electoral system was formed.

Analysts believe that the challenge for post-communist countries to avoid is to use an electoral system which can result in one party ruling in Parliament. Therefore, they chose an electoral system in Romania, as well as in other countries, that ensures the representation of different political parties and minorities. However, the following tendency – due to the majoritarian system – diminishes the principle of pluralism and endangers the level of representation in the Parliament of Romania.

Overall, mixed electoral systems have been successfully implied in European countries. However, there are countries with mixed electoral systems, where the ruling party mostly wins in a majoritarian system. In some cases this helps the ruling party to obtain a constitutional majority in Parliament, but mostly this occurs in post-Soviet countries where the institutionalization of parties is very low.

An example of countries that are using, or plan to use, a mixed electoral system in parliamentary elections would be interesting because as practice demonstrates, this is quite problematic in post-communist countries.

It might be stated that these countries need to overcome the challenge related to the risks of one party ruling and a totalitarian system.

In Romania this problem was solved through the proportional representative system, closed party lists and a low threshold. The experience of the Ukraine is more or less similar. Step by step, they transformed the system into a mixed one.

It will be interesting to see how the Georgian political actors and society will handle this issue. What will be considered a main challenge and what should be taken into account during the electoral reform?