The ruling Georgian Dream and the opposition parties continue sparring whether the March 8 Agreement includes the precondition of “the release of political prisoners.” Georgian Dream says that they have not pledged to “release political prisoners” in any form. Contrary is alleged by the opposition side that states the “release of political prisoners” was one of the prerequisites of the deal.
With less than six months left before the crucial October parliamentary polls, the parties are now trading accusations over the possible failure of the constitutional amendments that should bring Georgia’s current mixed electoral system closer to more proportional representation.
Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze stated yesterday that “we would like to stress that the responsibility for the failure of the constitutional amendment will lie solely with the radical opposition.” Roman Gotsiridze, MP from the United National Movement said “the deal will not be implemented unless both preconditions [reforming electoral system and “release of political prisoners”] are satisfied. We will not participate in the voting for the constitutional amendment unless the Agreement is fully implemented.”
I expect Georgia’s political parties to fully implement their March agreement, including the release of political prisoners and progress towards a new electoral system. https://t.co/0nSWlZN9gJ
— U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (@SenateForeign) May 12, 2020
Civil.ge offers assessments on the issue made by the Georgian politicians.
Ruling Party’s Assessments
Giorgi Gakharia – Prime Minister: “The March 8 Agreement is an achievement of Georgian democracy, in which our strategic partners have taken a direct part as facilitators. We must all remember that the electoral system [reform] as agreed on March 8 is such an important, qualitative, systemic change in terms of democratizing the country that it is absolutely unacceptable for me this achievement to be questioned in any form. As for the release of specific individuals, setting such conditions represent an insult to [the state] institutions. I would like to underscore once again that justice is not politicized in the country and the decisions about the specific convicts were made by [relevant] independent state bodies after completing the specific trials. And then someone saying that the release of these people was the subject of a political agreement – to me this is just incredible [and] impossible. I cannot even imagine a person who could take on such a responsibility and, on the whole, enter into a such discussion. I consider it impossible. ”
Mamuka Mdinaradze – MP, Georgian Dream: “We can guarantee that the Georgian Dream parliamentary team will back this project. The ones supporting it or rejecting it from the opposition side will be identified, afterwards. If this project fails in the absence of their support, everyone will already see why and under whose speculations the project failed. In any case, today we can guarantee that the Georgian Dream fully supported the system agreed between the parties.”
Irakli Kobakhidze – MP, Georgian Dream: “The opposition, certainly, raised the issue of prisoners [during the electoral reform talks]. However, in the course of four meetings, they have received a clear answer on this topic from us. In particular, our answer was that no political negotiation and agreement can discuss topics like pressure on the court, the Prosecutor’s Office and any kind of assignments for the President. This is an absurd. Georgia has got plenty of political speculators, a lot of political morons, but it has no political prisoners under no circumstances. Everything is clearly stated in the Agreement, which is laconic and, generally, states no improper politicization of the judiciary will ever take place. ”
Grigol Vashadze – United National Movement: “Politically and pragmatically, this statement [by the Speaker of Parliament] is completely incomprehensible, but as a result of it, our mediators have had to intervene in the discussion of the opposition and the government – to explain them the role of mediators in this agreement, of how important it is to release political prisoners, because it was an integral part of our Agreement. What outcome did the government receive? The government’s democratic credentials have been damaged. Now everyone knows that we have political prisoners [in the country]; and I want to emphasize that all the negative consequences that the inappropriate, useless, untimely and completely inaccurate statements of the Government will bring, should be and will be the responsibility of the Georgian government – the Georgian Dream. ”
Giga Bokeria – European Georgia: “The position of the U.S., [also] of all the friends of Georgia, a large part of the Georgian society is the same – [ruling party chairman Bidzina] Ivanishvili must fulfill the pledge he made to the friends of the Georgian society and Georgia, he must release political prisoners. The electoral system needs to be changed. Then, we have to conduct proper elections as much as possible. [Then] Ivanishvili must come to terms with the verdict of the Georgian society and then we must have a government that will move the country forward. ”
Irma Inashvili – Alliance of Patriots: “I confirm that at this meeting, Saakashvili’s party, Bokeria’s party and other parties united around them, really moved on to another issue, and this issue concerned Ugulava and not only [his release]. Representatives of these parties also demanded personal inviolability. I confirm that neither Archil Talakvadze nor Irakli Kobakhidze agreed on this issue in my presence, but these meetings were also held without me. [Also], I confirm that an agreement was indeed presented at the March 8 meeting, the first point of which I clearly agreed with, as it concerned changes in the electoral system, but the second point was very vague. Second paragraph as Saakashvili-Bokeria’s party said implies the release of Ugulava and not only Ugulava, but on the other hand, Georgian Dream said that it implies something completely different. I did not sign this second paragraph.”
Tamar Chugoshvili – Independent MP: “The March 8 agreement, in addition to the constitutional amendments, also implied a certain response to the specific criminal cases. I participated in these meetings as an MP interested in the electoral system [reform] and was therefore a witness to this. The overall goal was not to prevent any offenders from seeking justice, but to ensure that political leaders and television owners / managers were not in jail before the election and, if necessary, their cases should be considered after the election. Today, it became evident that adopting changes in the electoral system are in a real danger. Both sides are now trying put responsibility on the [possible] failure of the amendment on one another. I would like to address the Georgian government that if these changes fail, you will not be able to put responsibilities on others, as you could not do it for the first time in November, when the constitutional reform was downvoted for the first time. Breaking the agreement and downvoting changes once again will be more ruinous this time.”
Tamar Khulordava – Independent MP: “Under no motives can the constitutional amendments be rejected. The changes [in the electoral system] do not really suit the Georgian Dream, especially as they were able to were able to regain their strength during the [coronavirus] crisis. Part of the opposition also has its own motives. Their goal is to have the government totally discredited internationally. Of course, they do not want the Georgian Dream to score points by making this constitutional change, and what is the result? Again, a proper development of our country should sacrifice itself for the interest of two groups. The Georgian Dream must introduce a draft constitutional amendment in parliament and vote on it, regardless of what the United National Movement says. With the full support of the Georgian Dream, it will be possible to adopt constitutional changes together with a group of independent deputies. Otherwise, non-fulfillment of the promise made for the second time will have a dramatic [result] for the Georgian government. They cannot justify it with the stubbornness of the opposition and they cannot overshadow it with the coronavirus.”
Theoretically, the Georgian Dream (93 MPs) can still pass the constitutional amendments without the support of the UNM and European Georgia parties (26 MPs), if it secures the support of 20 MPs of the remaining 30 lawmakers.