The Parliament of Georgia approved a decision on December 15 establishing the state constitutional commission, chaired by Parliamentary Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze and tasked to table the constitutional amendments before April 30, 2017.
Kobakhidze said that the constitution needs a “fundamental revision”, but noted that the revised document would not be “an absolutely new edition.”
“We want to improve the constitution and demonstrate that the constitutional majority in its current form does not pose any threats,” he said in response to opponents’ concerns that the constitutional majority represents a danger to the country’s democracy.
He also noted that a four-month term is “a rational period” for developing the draft constitutional bill, but added that if the commission “fails to develop a product till April 30, it will be possible to extend the term further.”
“I am sure that there is a space for full consensus and the commission will work in this regards,” Kobakhidze said.
According to the commission’s statute, the commission will comprise of about 60-65 members and will be authorized to make decisions if more than one half of its members are present; decisions will be made by a majority of its members.
The commission will carry out its activities in four thematic working groups: human rights, judiciary, preamble to the constitution, general and transitional provisions of the constitution; parliament, finances and control, constitutional revision; President, Government, defense issues; and administrative-territorial arrangement and local self-governance issues.
The ruling Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia party will have 23 members in the commission; the United National Movement will be represented by 8 members and the Alliance of Patriots by 2 members.
The commission will also involve one representative from each of the parties and the leading parties in the electoral blocs, which failed to clear the 5% threshold, but garnered at least 3% of votes in the last parliamentary elections. The following non-parliamentary parties - Free Democrats; Nino Burjanadze’s Democratic Movement; Paata Burchuladze’s State for People party and the Labor Party –meet this requirement.
The Parliamentary Chairman will define the number of experts and NGO representatives in the commission based on his consultations.
According to the commission statute, the President will have three representatives in the commission: Head of the President’s administration; President’s parliamentary secretary and the Secretary of the National Security Council. The government will have two members –the Minister of Justice and the government’s parliamentary secretary. The commission will also involve the chairpersons of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court; heads of legislative and executive bodies of Adjara and Abkhazian Autonomous Republics; Georgian Public Defender; President of the National Bank of Georgia and the chairperson of the State Audit Office.
The President’s administration said earlier this week that it would boycott the work of the state constitutional commission. On December 15, Secretary of the National Security Council Davit Rakviashvili announced that he would not take part in the commission’s activities as well.
The President’s administration cited lack of “political trust and political legitimization” as the argument behind the boycott. President Margvelashvili’s earlier proposal to establish the commission under the chairmanship of the President, the Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Chairman, was rejected by the ruling Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia.
“The proposed format has the highest legitimization and it cannot leave any question marks,” Irakli Kobakhidze said at the Parliament’s plenary session on December 15.
He said that this very format was chosen because the Parliament and not the President has the right to initiate constitutional amendments.
Kobakhidze added that he would meet with President Margvelashvili in coming days to discuss the matter. “We hope that the President will change his decision,” he added.
The Parliamentary Chairman said that the commission will start its work before the end of 2016 and elaborate the draft in four months, followed by legislative proposal and initiation of nationwide discussions. Despite boycott, the President’s administration expressed readiness to join the nationwide discussions.
Kobakhidze said that once the legislative proposal enters the parliament, the project will also be sent to the Venice Commission for its expertise.
“The Venice Commission will have sufficient time to return its conclusion before the parliamentary discussions are launched and this conclusion will be fully reflected in the final document,” he added.
He noted that the overall process of constitutional revision would take about a year, as the draft legislative amendments should be discussed and approved in three parliamentary hearings during spring and autumn sessions.