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26 MEPs Express Worry over Georgia’s Democratic Backsliding

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On March 5, a group of twenty-six Members of the European Parliament, headed by MEP Markéta Gregorová (Czech Republic/GREENS-EFA) sent a joint letter to Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, expressing worry over “Georgia backsliding regarding the rule of law and democratic principles.” The letter was published in its entirety by opposition MP Giorgi Kandelaki today.

The group is comprised of deputies from four largest political forces present in the European Parliament – European People’s Party, Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, Renew Europe and Greens-European Free Alliance.

In a strongly-worded letter, MEPs addressed the controversy over an electoral reform ahead of the October 2020 parliamentary polls in Georgia. They expressed “regret” that the constitutional amendments enabling introduction of fully proportional electoral system had been voted down. European lawmakers commended the ongoing dialogues between the ruling Georgian Dream party and the opposition. They urged the Georgian government to keep their promise and fast-track adoption of proportional electoral system “without further delays.”

“The apparent polarization of the Georgian society is the result of the status quo of not stimulating Georgian democratic life,” the MEPs stated.

MEPs condemned “the disproportionate use of force” by police force against demonstrators and a high injury toll during the 2019 protests [against ruling party’s actions]. “Excessive use of force in the dispersal of a peaceful protest is unacceptable,” stressed the European legislators. They added that “civil society is an essential part of government scrutiny.”

The group put a special emphasis on the importance of “an impartial, transparent, and independent judiciary,” as a foundation of a democratic society. MEPs voiced criticism about the selection and appointment of new Supreme Court judges for lifetime tenure. According to their assessment, the process “lacked transparency and merit-based objectivity.” MEPs called on the Georgian Parliament to ensure that “the judges who remain to be selected meet highest professional and reputational standards.”

European lawmakers drew attention to the encroachment of political influence on the judiciary, citing remarks of Bidzina Ivanishvili (chair of the Georgian Dream party) “threatening opposition with jail time,” as well as reopening of “previously dormant [criminal] cases” which put “several opposition leaders under investigation or in custody.” In particular, “the latest case of Mr Gigi Ugulava raises questions regarding the procedure, timing and motivation behind the ruling of the Supreme Court,” MEPs wrote.

Noting that “Georgia has always been our partner in fighting hybrid warfare,” the MEPs expressed disappointment that according to Facebook, government was complicit in waging a “disinformation campaign,” which contained “hundreds of fake pages and groups on social media.”

The MEPs called on the Georgian government to “resolve” the aforementioned issues “for the sake of the Georgian people.” “We stand ready to support you in all democratic efforts and look forward to a stronger EU-Georgian partnership in the future,” the authors of the letter concluded.

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