On June 22, the Parliament of Georgia adopted unanimously with 115 votes the constitutional amendments with its first reading.
Two parliamentary opposition parties – the United National Movement and the Alliance of Patriots – refused to participate in two-day parliamentary discussions and boycotted the entire process. Lawmakers from the third opposition party – the Movement for Liberty – European Georgia – walked out of the Parliament chamber as a sign of protest on June 21.
As a result, only MPs of the ruling parliamentary majority Georgian Dream participated in the voting.
“The present constitution is incoherent on various accounts… the key goal was to create a coherent parliamentary system,” Parliamentary Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze said on June 21 when presenting the draft constitution.
The major constitutional amendments involve transition to the proposed system of indirect election of the President from 2023. As a separate amendment, the mixed majoritarian-proportional electoral system will be abolished and the 2024 parliamentary elections will be held through fully proportional representation.
Parliamentary Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze said that the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2020 will be held under the current rule.
“Personally, I preferred to move to the proportional system in 2020, but we reached this agreement through coordinating various opinions,” he said on June 21.
These amendments were strongly criticized by the opposition and non-governmental organizations.
The decision was made following parliamentary discussions to hold the 2020 elections through the mixed system with one-off reduction of electoral threshold from 5% to 3%; moreover, political parties will no longer be able to set up electoral blocs.
As for the presidency, the Parliamentary Chairman said that the Georgian President’s status, as well as his competencies will remain unchanged, adding that only the rule of the presidential election will be changed from 2023.
“We took into account a personal factor; in particular, the incumbent President should have at least a theoretical chance to run in the presidential elections,” Kobakhidze explained.
According to the constitutional amendments, the President shall be elected for a term of five years through secret ballot by the college of electors. One and the same person can run in the elections only twice.
The college of electors will consist of 300 members, including members of the parliament and all members of the Supreme Councils of Adjara and Abkhazia (in-exile). Electors from municipality councils will be nominated by political parties in accordance with quotas assigned. The college of electors will be approved by the Central Election Commission, according to the draft constitutional amendments.
No less than 30 electors will be able to nominate a presidential candidate. A candidate, who garners most votes, but no less than the majority of total number of delegates, will be declared a winner in the first round of elections. If the first round fails to reveal the winner, the second round will be held between two candidates with the best results achieved in the first round. A candidate, who garners most votes in the second round, will be declared a winner.
Opposition and civil society organizations also criticized the abolition of the National Security Council and assigning him the Defense Council leadership during wartime only.
“The National Security Council has zero efficiency and therefore, abolition of this body will have zero effect on defense capacity and security in the country. It is a very simple reality,” the Parliamentary Chairman said.
He also noted that the Venice Commission gave 23 recommendations, 21 of which were met unconditionally. Kobakhidze said that additional consultations would be held on two more recommendations related to nomination of Supreme Court judges and on deliberations on draft budget in the Parliament.
The Parliamentary Chairman said that the basic part of the constitutional amendments, except of some clauses, would enter into force upon taking an oath by the President-elect in the aftermath of presidential elections in 2018.
Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili
“I would like to comment on the crucially important process – amendments to be made in the Constitution of Georgia, and to reiterate to our public the purpose and the importance of these changes. First and foremost, I would like to emphasize that initiating changes by our team was necessary and inevitable for our country’s democratic development,” Kvirikashvili said at a special news briefing on June 22.
“Ultimately, the amendments by the Constitutional Commission balance and clearly distribute responsibilities between the branches of government. Under these amendments, the Parliament assumes its natural role and importance, simplified procedures are established for a parliamentary motion of no confidence in the government, also the effectiveness of the Government is enhanced, clearly-defined functions of the President as a neutral arbiter are introduced, better protection of human rights and the society as a whole is in place, and the constitution’s interim provisions enshrine the country’s foreign policy choice,” the Prime Minister said.
PM Kvirikashvili also focused on the presidential and parliamentary elections.
“To achieve consensus, President will be elected through direct vote in 2018,” he said.
He also noted that “overall, only one issue was not agreed, that of the date for switching to proportional representation.”
“Differences of opinion on this issue even among the members of the parliamentary majority clearly demonstrates the healthy and democratic approaches of our Government. Ultimately, even those majoritarian MPs who hold different views on this issue agree to the decision to switch to proportional representation in 2024, which will be reflected in the Constitution,” Kvirikashvili said.
The Prime Minister slammed the opposition’s protest against constitutional amendments as “unfair” saying that the opposition tries “to consolidate and engage some NGOs to oppose these constitutional amendments, all of which is groundless.”
President Giorgi Margvelashvili
President Giorgi Margvelashvili criticized the draft constitution as the document “undersigned by one political party” with “zero consensus.”
“About six months ago I informed the Georgian society that a uniform, national, consensual document, as the constitution should be, could not be written in such spirit. Unfortunately, my expectations came true. We received the draft constitution, which has a zero consensus. This document is undersigned only by one party, that a priori means that this is not a consensual document,” President Margvelashvili told reporters on June 22.
“Not only the government did not even try to listen to Georgian people and share public opinions, but they demonstratively showed the public that their opinion does not matter to them. This is a document, which has been developed without public involvement… The entire political spectrum has been neglected,” Nino Kalandadze of the United National Movement said on June 22.
Gigi Ugulava, one of the leaders of the Movement for Liberty – European Georgia, held a special briefing on June 22, saying that the constitution “is not based on public consensus.”
“It is a unilateral constitution developed by Bidzina Ivanishvili and the Georgian Dream… Therefore, we can say today that Ivanishvili and the Georgian Dream tore up the constitution. Our response should be calm but angry – we all should go to the elections and punish the Georgian Dream,” Ugulava said.
The Public Defender
Ucha Nanuashvili stressed that the constitutional amendments should be approved through public consensus.
“Public consensus and more involvement in this process is crucial so that nobody has a perception that the amendments were initiated by one particular group. So, this process should be continued in order to involve more organizations, more groups in it,” he told reporters on June 21.
Civil Society Organizations
During a special press conference on June 22 a group of about 15 civil society organizations boycotted the parliamentary discussions.
“Despite our attempts, we failed to achieve the electoral system change in this country. Therefore, I think that the cooperation is senseless, when agreements are not fulfilled; we see no sense in our participation,” Eka Gigauri of the Transparency International Georgia said on June 22.
“The Venice Commission provided its recommendations; the process was underway and now it turns out that this process is fully neglected and unilateral decision has been made over the constitution that is not a democratic step; it is very important that the ruling force does not take this step,” Ana Natsvlishvili of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association said.
“The government has actually boycotted all actors involved in the constitutional process, because all important amendments, which, as we believed, would have improved the text of the constitution and through which we would have received a better document, as the Venice Commission supposed, were neglected,” Giorgi Mshvenieradze of the Georgian Democracy Initiative added.
“It is impossible to achieve fundamental amendments through our involvement in this process. Therefore, we quit the process and do not intend to participate in it anymore,” noted Mikheil Benidze of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy.