Absent parliamentarians and ghost voting in the Georgian legislature
One of the basic principles of representative democracy is that legislators must cast their own votes. This ensures that they can be held accountable to their constituents during elections for their stance on new legislation.
The Rules of Procedures of the Parliament of Georgia (Georgian only) support this principle: they strictly state that MPs must be present in the plenary session (the period during which the entire Parliament assembles to discuss and vote on laws) during the voting process. The rules also specify that votes have equal weights and MPs are not allowed to delegate their right of vote (Rules of Procedures of Parliament of Georgia. Art. 140). Therefore, MPs are prohibited from using their absent colleagues’ identification cards to cast a vote.
The penalty for breaching this rule is imposed on the holder of the ID card, not the MP doing the ‘ghost voting,’ i.e. casting a vote for a person not physically present. The penalty for the holder of the ID card is the withholding of one month’s salary for the first violation, three months’ salary for the second violation, and six months’ salary for any subsequent violations (Rules of Procedures of Parliament of Georgia. Art. 264.8).
Nonetheless, observations have revealed that ghost voting is commonly and openly practiced in the Georgian legislature. TI Georgia staff have attended a number of plenary sessions and discovered that certain MPs cast votes for their absent colleagues; some MPs were seen to use the voting devices of two or three absent members.
Due to restrictions on filming at Parliamentary sessions, we have to present video evidence obtained from external sources. Maestro TV kindly agreed to give us footage which clearly depicts the practice of ‘ghost voting’ in the Georgian legislature. The video footage provided by Maestro TV (which broadcasts only in Tbilisi) was taken during the plenary session of June 14th, 2011.
Apart from constituting a violation of the Parliamentary procedures, TI Georgia believes that ‘ghost voting’ is a breach of the basic democratic principle that lawmakers must hold sole responsibility for the votes they cast, as the elected representatives of their constituents.
We urge Georgian MPs to act in good faith and to respect the Constitution and their constituents.