MP Gedevan Popkhadze was elected as the first deputy chair of the Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, replacing MP Vano Zardiashvili, who served at the post from November 2016. In his new capacity, Gedevan Popkhadze will also serve as the acting chair of the committee.
Popkhadze’s election takes place within the larger context of internal dispute in the ruling Georgian Dream party over the appointment of Supreme Court judges, which saw the resignation of Legal Affairs Committee chair Eka Beselia. Popkhadze and Beselia are close political allies.
War of procedures
The committee hearing and the voting was held on December 31, four days after MP Vano Zardiashvili filed for resignation.
Beselia nominated three candidates for the position – Gedevan Popkhadze, Levan Gogichaishvili and Ruslan Poghosiani. No candidate garnered sufficient votes in the initial round. Popkhadze obtained seven votes in the second round, prevailing over Gogichaishvili, who got two votes.
In his press remarks, MP Gedevan Popkhadze stressed his primary goal in the office will be to make the appointment process of the Supreme Court judges more transparent and fair.
“We all wanted to make sure that the committee would not let the dubious list of judges pass to the plenary session,” the lawmaker said. “We need to ensure both – that bad judges do not make it to the Supreme Court and that decent and highly respectable judges are elected to the posts,” he added.
According to media reports, it was MP Vano Zardiashvili, together with Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze and a group of like-minded lawmakers, who lobbied the controversial list of Supreme Court appointments, but Beselia as the chair of the lead committee refused to put the list on the committee hearing agenda.
Three Georgian Dream lawmakers – Davit Matikashvili, Anri Okhanashvili and Rati Ionatamishvili – claimed during the hearing that the process was carried out in violation of the Parliament’s rules of procedure.
In particular, they pointed out that the agenda of the committee hearing, finalized three days earlier, specified that the voting should have been held on Popkhadze only, and not on Gogichaishvili and Poghosiani (final agendas are published three days prior to committee hearings).
MP Davit Matikashvili also noted that it was “unfortunate” that the committee decided to elect the first deputy chair without deliberating on the issue within the majority group.
Under the Parliament’s rules of procedure, majority of votes are required to become a deputy committee chair, but if there are more than two candidates and none of them manage to obtain sufficient votes, the voting goes into the second round between two top performers – where the one garnering more votes, wins.
The Legal Affairs Committee has 17 members, meaning that Popkhadze would have needed nine votes to be elected, had Eka Beselia nominated him only. Apparently, the committee chair nominated two other candidates to secure Popkhadze’s victory.
New vs old guard
Similar points were voiced by Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze, who previously maintained that the issue should have been discussed within the majority group, rather than decided by committee members.
Irakli Kobakhidze noted that Popkhadze’s election in “gross violation” of the Parliament’s rules of procedure is “unfortunate,” and that it will have “an appropriate assessment” within the party or the Parliament.
The Speaker also asserted that Beselia’s decision “to make internal difficulties public,” was a mistake, and that the party would have to react to that as well. He, however, underlined that the response would be “mild.”
Kobakhidze also reassured that the developments would not affect the integrity of the Georgian Dream party. “There is only one team, and the team is led by Bidzina Ivanishvili; if anyone wants to go against this team, we will of course react to it,” he added.
Beselia dismissed these accusations, saying the process was in compliance with the rules of procedure. “I know the rules very well and I respect the rules; the decision was in line with the rules of procedure,” she noted.
The lawmaker also stressed that she remains a member of the Georgian Dream, but added that she “will revise her position, if the newcomers, the ones who joined [the Georgian Dream] after the  victory in a calm and comfortable environment choose a different path and that path derails from the ideals that guided us in 2012.”
Timeline of Prior Developments
The list of ten Supreme Court nominees was submitted to the Parliament by the High Council of Justice (HCoJ), the body overseeing the judiciary, on December 24.
Two non-judge Council members and a group of local rights watchdogs, slammed the list of nominations, saying the process was not transparent. Opposition parties and some ruling party lawmakers joined public criticism against the proposed list.
Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze said on December 26 that the Parliament would not deliberate on the issue in the ongoing session, and would return to it later.
MP Eka Beselia announced her resignation on December 27, and spoke publicly against the list of Supreme Court nominations. She stressed the list had to be recalled rather than be suspended, as announced by Speaker Kobakhidze.
On December 28, the Parliament Speaker also held a meeting with Giorgi Mikautadze, the Secretary of the High Council of Justice. The two agreed to cooperate on reforming the appointment procedures, according to their press remarks.