For the first time on May 30, mayoral candidates must not only be directly elected by the voters rather than selected via party list, but also must gain at least 30 percent of the total vote. But will that 30 percent threshold, a compromise inserted after fierce debate between the parties about this powerful political post, help guarantee a competitive election?
Eka Siradze, the leader of International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) thinks that the threshold should be a measure of fairness in voters’ minds. In lots of countries there are different systems, she said, but “the mayor, being elected in the threshold system, will have more powerful mandate, than a mayor being elected without a threshold.”
The debate around the threshold pitted Mayoral Candidate Irakli Alasania’s National Alliance for Georgia party, which demanded a 50 percent threshold, against the incumbent mayor Gigi Gugalava’s and President Mikael Saakashvili’s ruling National Movement party, which advocated no threshold at all. The debates ended with the 30 percent middle choice proposed by the Christian Democrats.
But is that threshold high enough to guarantee a competitive race? Current polling figures show Gugalava ahead by a comfortable 38 percent. Meanwhile, only 13 percent of voters say they support Alasania, with other opposition party candidates coming in much lower. An additional 16 of voters were undecided, according to the poll, which was conducted by the Caucasus Resource Research Center (CRRC) last November. The poll was conducted randomly among 2000 Tbilisi residents and contained a +/- 3 percent margin of error.
A higher threshold was also the choice for most Tbilisi residents, according to the CRRC research, conducted at the request of NDI to assess voter attitudes and trends. Eighty percent of Georgians answered that a threshold during the mayoral election is needed. Only 6 percent of that group thought a 30 percent threshold was adequate, while the vast majority (60 percent) consider a 50 percent threshold or more to be the best suggestion.
Though Alasania threatened to withdraw from the mayor’s race when the threshold was set at 30 percent, he later changed his mind. Victor Dolidze, Chief Executor of Alliance for Georgia, explains that that 50 percent threshold was not a do-or-die requirement for their leader.
“We still think that 50 percent was absolutely appropriate for this situation but, as the government did not take this correct step, we agreed on a 30 percent threshold,” he said. It was the right move, apparently: according to the NDI survey:, 43 percent of Tbilisi citizens sare against the idea of Alasania’s boycotting elections and only 20 percent think that boycotting would be right.
“Certainly the 50 percent, at this certain period of our county, increases the chance for the mayor’s race to move to a second round,” said Tamar Zhvania, director of United Nations Development Programme Georgia (UNDP Georgia). “But to define the 50 percent threshold as an ultimate way out is impossible in terms of democratic standards. There is no direct approach to ideal election standards in the modern world so we can’t say for sure that thresholds might have a drastic significance during this election. “