Almost six-hour long meeting between the ruling Georgian Dream party and the opposition, which was held on November 30 upon the initiative of foreign diplomats accredited in Georgia and international partners and which aimed at reaching a consensus over amending the electoral system, proved unsuccessful.
The meeting follows over two weeks of protests and rising political tensions in Tbilisi and all across Georgia, triggered by Georgian Parliament’s failure to pass the constitutional amendment on transition to fully proportional electoral system from 2020 on November 14. With voting down the amendment, the ruling party backtracked on its key promise to June 2019 protests.
Opposition parties and civil rights activists launched protests since then, demanding the adoption of the so called German electoral model and snap elections, while Georgian Dream party insisted that it “has closed discussions” on transition to fully proportional system. In a dramatic change, on November 25, ruling party’s Secretary General Kakha Kaladze said the Georgian Dream mulls to switch to fully majoritarian electoral system after 2020 polls.
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Opposition and legal experts say that the so called “German model” – a variant of the majoritarian system tied to the proportional vote results – does not require a quorum of 113 votes (of sitting 150 MPs) needed for the constitutional amendments, since it can be enacted through changing the election code (with simple majority of 76 votes).
The “German model” would see the 2020 polls held – as it is now – through the mixed system (with 73 lawmakers being majoritarians and 77 being elected through proportional party lists). However, the rule of assigning the majoritarian mandates would change – it will be linked to the proportional vote results, preventing any party getting more seats in the parliament, than the share of votes received in the proportional vote.
The meeting started at 10am on Saturday in Biltmore Hotel on Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare. The ruling party was represented by Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze, Vice Speaker Gia Volski, leader of the parliamentary majority, Mamuka Mdinaradze, ex-Parliament Speaker and Georgian Dream’s Executive Secretary Irakli Kobakhidze, MP Irakli Beraia and Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani.
The opposition politicians also attended the meeting, among them Grigol Vashadze of the United National Movement, MP Giga Bokeria of European Georgia, Irma Inashvili of the Alliance of Patriots, as well as three former Parliament Speakers – Davit Usupashvili, leader of Development Movement; Nino Burjanadze, leader of Democratic Movement – United Georgia and Akaki Asatiani, leader of Traditionalists.
Foreign diplomats accredited in Tbilisi, among them Elizabeth Rood, Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. at the U.S. Embassy to Tbilisi; Carl Hartzell, Ambassador of the European Union to Georgia and Venice Commission’s Executive Secretary, Thomas Markert also attended the meeting.
Statements made before the meeting
In their remarks made before the meeting, the ruling party members stated that they would not compromise.
“We will not propose anything. We can only offer them to stay in the street, because if they stay in the street, it will be politically profitable for us, as they suffer regress on a daily basis,” ex-Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze said before the meeting.
Incumbent Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze said that they would listen to the opposition’s arguments that would help return the developments “to a normal political process.”
“I cannot say that I have a lot of expectations,” Grigol Vashadze of the United National Movement said; he, however, expressed hope that the expectations of Georgian citizens about establishing a new political culture in the country would be justified that “first of all, implies dialogue and compromise.”
Nino Burjanadze, leader of Democratic Movement – United Georgia, expressed hope that the process would move from the streets to the Parliament, adding that the opposition would do its utmost to ensure holding of elections through fair electoral system.
Statements made after the meeting
In their remarks made after the meeting the ruling party members reiterated that the German model contradicts the constitution. Archil Talakvadze stressed that “the meeting has once again made it clear that the so called German model does not comply with the Georgian constitution.”
“The purpose of the meeting was to exchange arguments, in the presence of our international partners and the Venice Commission, and to show to our partners that the German model requires constitutional amendments; otherwise, it cannot be implemented,” he told reporters.
He also stressed that the failure to transit to the proportional electoral system from 2020 does not mean that the country suspends its democratic development, adding that the ruling party is getting ready for holding democratic parliamentary elections in 2020.
Commenting on the meeting, Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani said that “no further debates can be held on the issue [of German model]” and that “no constitutional amendments can be made.” She also said that the opposition failed to provide any legal arguments to convince the ruling party that the German model complies with the constitution.
The opposition politicians expressed readiness to continue dialogue on electoral reforms with MP Giga Bokeria saying that “protests will continue outside and dialogue – inside” until the society receives what it deserves.
The opposition politicians noted that the ruling party failed to provide any arguments about why the German model contradicts the constitution.
“Still, we will do our best to continue dialogue,” Nino Burjanadze said. “We have no moral right not to bring the proportional system achieved by our youth, which cost them and the entire society much, to the end.”
Carl Hartzell, Ambassador of the European Union to Georgia, and Elizabeth Rood, Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy, said after the meeting that the sides agreed to continue a dialogue.
“We had a useful discussion between the different sides. The recent agreement to continue the dialogue shows that we have a serious process,” Carl Hartzell noted.
The public movement “In the Service of the County” slammed the format of negotiations, saying that the format, which “does not envisage the involvement of the civil society arouses serious doubts that the government tries to portray protests as narrow-partisan interest and promotes disagreement in the unity between civil society and political parties.”
It, however, noted that if there is the smallest chance that Bidzina Ivanishvili will compromise as a result of negotiations, the movement has “no moral right to obstruct the format.”