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Georgia's parliament fails to pass electoral changes, triggering protest

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TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgian lawmakers failed on Thursday to pass constitutional amendments aimed at holding elections in 2020 under a proportional voting system, triggering a protest outside parliament by hundreds of opposition and civil activists.

The ruling Georgian Dream Party appeared ready to support changing the system from mixed to proportional voting from next year – one of the demands made at protests that have been taking place in the Georgian capital Tbilisi since June.

The switch was scheduled to happen anyway in 2024, but the opposition demanded the change be brought forward, as proportional voting is likely to make it harder for Georgian Dream to maintain its dominance in parliament.

Parliament began discussing the amendments on Wednesday but some ruling party lawmakers who feared proportional voting would cost them their seats refused to support the changes.

In the ensuing vote on Thursday, 101 lawmakers endorsed the amendments – 12 short of the required majority.

“We are leaving the parliamentary majority as this vote was the red line for us,” Georgian Dream MP Tamar Chugoshvili told reporters.

The outcome prompted a protest rally outside parliament, with activists blocking traffic by sitting down in the street.

“Georgian Dream did not support the democratic development of the country, did not support this most important bill,” Giga Makarashvili, an opposition activist, told reporters. “This is a declared war by the Georgian Dream against its own people”.

It was not immediately clear whether parliament might reconsider the changes, but strong popular pressure for proportional voting was likely to continue.

Opposition leaders said they suspected the abortive vote was orchestrated by Georgian Dream party chief Bidzina Ivanishvili, a wealthy oligarch whom critics suspect in governing the former Soviet republic of 3.7 million people behind the scenes.

“No one believes in this (parliamentary) performance…This is a very bad decision for the whole society, but first of all for Bidzina Ivanishvili,” said Giga Bokeria, an opposition European Georgia party lawmaker.

Ivanishvili issued a statement denying having manipulated the process, saying he was “frustrated by the outcome.”

“As leader of the ruling political force, I reaffirm my support for the transition to a proportional electoral system in 2020, and I sincerely regret that it has failed,” he said.

(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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