More parliamentarism in Central Asia

The Venice Commission has published an generally positive opinion on the Georgian government’s proposal for constitutional reforms. The reforms were proposed after the governing Georgian Dream party won 115 seats in the 150 member legislature in elections, slightly more than the three-quarters majority required to amend the document.

Specifically, the amendments propose repealing direct elections to the Presidency, replacing it with election by a 300-member electoral college composed of members of the national legislature and local councillors. In addition, most of the powers of the Presidency are stripped. This creates a parliamentary system, with a Prime Minister only removable through a constructive vote of no confidence.

The previously unicameral legislature will be replaced, nominally, with a bicameral legislature, comprised of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. However, the Senate specifically includes members elected from Abkhazia, currently under the control of a separatist government, and is only to be created after “appropriate conditions have been created throughout the territory of Georgia”. This would seem to imply that the chamber can only be created when Abkhazia returns to government control, and the Venice Commission’s report confirms that they understand its creation will be delayed.

In addition, there are changes to the electoral law. The existing mixed-member majoritarian system with a roughly even split between single-member constituencies elected using the two-round system and party-list PR with a 5% threshold will be replaced with a system of list PR only, still with a 5% threshold. While there is little elaboration, the document does specify that seats shall be allocated by the Hare quota, but instead of allocating seats by largest remainders, all remaining seats are allocated to the largest party (a method used in Greece in one of their endless electoral system changes).

The change bears some resemblance to the relatively recent amendments in Armenia. Like Georgia, a semi-presidential system with a legislature elected with a mixed-member system transitioned into a parliamentary one with a legislature elected under a list system with a bonus (though Armenia’s bonus is somewhat more elaborate, and guarantees a majority government in one form or another). While drawing broad conclusions off two examples is obviously bound to be, these two results may suggest that there is a shift away from politics centred around an all-powerful directly elected presidency, and towards more party-based politics.

A more tenuous argument along these lines could be made in relation to the electoral system. In both cases (along with Kyrgyzstan, which actually moved from single-member districts to MMM to party list), a system in which individual candidates were an important part of legislative elections (especially in the years shortly after independence) has been replaced by a system in which parties are the dominant actors. On the other hand, the pendulum has moved the other way elsewhere in the region, in Russia and the Ukraine.

The President, though endorsed by the Georgian Dream party at the 2013 election, does not appear to have been overly enthusiastic about the landslide victory. The Venice Commission did express some concerns about the power of a government with an overwhelming parliamentary majority, but that seems less likely in Georgia than in Armenia, owing to the more proportional system.

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14 thoughts on “More parliamentarism in Central Asia

  1. A nitpick. Georgia and Armenia are in the Caucasus and in Asia, but are not in Central Asia.

    Did the Georgia Dream Party produce this proposal because they knew it could never be carried out because of the Abkhazia provision?

    • I think the proposal of a switch to parliamentarism is independent of the Abkhazia provision, but Georgian Dream may not have been entirely serious about the Senate (there is almost nothing else on its powers or composition in the proposed Constitution).

  2. Fascinating stuff – thank you as always. I wonder whether a majoritarian electoral system combined with parliamentarism wouldn’t become a more centralized system than semi presidential system with both executive and legislative power resting with one party. Georgia and Armenia are in Europe though (Kyrgyzstan is indeed Central Asia).

    • Wikipedia has only Georgia’s northernmost mountain range in Europe, with only the Russian Caucasus for the rest as part of Europe. Unless you’d insist on a cultural definition of Europe rather than a geographic one (which would be strange, since a continent is a geographic concept, even if inconsistently or vaguely defined), I don’t know how you’d fit Armenia into Europe.

      • In his speech to the troops before Austerlitz Napoleon said that Tsar Alexander I had brought an army from ‘the extremities of the universe’. A friend of mine lives on Europe-Asia Street in Yekaterinburg, but sadly that city is actually 17 kilometres east of the line of the Ural watershed. People have been speaking about the European and Asian shores of the Bosphoros since at least the time of Constantine the Great. There is not only no agreement on where the line runs between the Bosphorus and Yekaterinburg, but, to say the least, there is not much agreement on what constitutes a continent. I am actually quite enthusiastic for talking about a single continent of Eurasia.

        I would probably classify both Armenia and Georgia as European on cultural grounds in the absence of any serious geographic grounds to do otherwise. I have no idea how to classify Turkey. I would not think ether Georgia or Armenia fits any definition of Central Asia. Or Central Eurasia.

      • I acknowledged the difficulties regarding the definition of ‘continent’. I also acknowledge that there is disagreement regarding where Asia begins when one walks east of St. Petersburg. But I don’t see much disagreement on the Caucasus, specifically the boundary stretching between the Caspian and Black seas. If the Caucasus itself is the boundary, it is its northern reach that is the boundary, not the South. Otherwise, the boundary falls north of the Caucasus.

      • And then there is the definition of Metternich who said: ‘Asia begins at the Landstrasse’, that is at the royal highway running east to Hungary.

  3. Thank you, Henry, for covering these wonderfully novel developments! Changes towards pure parliamentarism have so far been exceedingly rare. I daresay this is the case among both democracies and more hybrid regimes (If we use a Polity IV score of 6 as the cutoff, then Armenia is not democratic, while Georgia has been just over the line for over a decade). Among democracies, Samuels & Shugart (2010) have Moldova as the only other country to have shifted towards parliamentarism – although just last year they moved back to (premier-presidential) semi-presidentialism.

    Armenia’s new electoral system is particularly novel. If I recall correctly, it was list-PR with a 5% threshold if one party gets a majority of votes (with that party getting at least 55% of seats); if no party gets a majority of votes, a second round is held if no majority government can be formed within a week or so, to decide which party gets a bonus to boost it up to 55% of seats – with the rest of the seats being allocated in proportion to first-round votes. Further provisions ensure no party gets over 66% of seats. If the electoral system has to be majoritarian, surely this is a proper way to do it!

      • It is extremely similar to the system Renzi introduced after the 2005-2013 system was struck down, similar to the point where one might assume the Armenian legislators copied from Italian experience.

      • It isn’t really PR if the largest party is guaranteed a majority, though perhaps it’s (only slightly) less problematic to call it PR when the majority isn’t manufactured by a direct advantage ratio but through the two-round feature.

        I have no idea why you would want to guarantee a party a majority of an assembly in a presidential system. If the US turned parliamentary, then maybe.

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