The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR called on the Georgian Parliament to reconsider a controversial legislative package that aims to strip boycotting parties of state funding and includes measures perceived to be targetted at the largest opposition party United National Movement.
Specifically, the bill which received a first-hearing endorsement in December 2020, envisages stripping parties that do not take up at least half of their MP mandates of state funding, and also barring parties without funding from receiving free air time. It proposes as well to terminate or suspend the election registration of a party if a person who participates in its campaign as a leader does not have the right to vote in Georgia, a measure allegedly targeted at the UNM leader-in-exile Mikheil Saakashvili, currently a Ukrainian citizen.
The Venice Commission and ODIHR stressed in the joint March 20 opinion that even if the majority of elected MPs refuse to take up their mandates “depriving a political party of all state funding is an unduly invasive excessive and disproportionate measure.”
Moreover, the joint opinion said that sanctioning parties if their members do not attend the majority of parliamentary sittings “appears disproportionate and at odds with the Parliament’s Rule of Procedure.”
Regarding another proposed measure, to fully deduct a salary of an MP who does not attend any sessions during a month, the Venice Commission and ODIHR said it is “likely not compliant” with the Georgian Constitution.
Instead, the Venice Commission and ODIHR proposed the Georgian Parliament to consider “proportionate” means such as imposing direct consequences to MPs for their actions.
The joint opinion stressed that the initiative to deny parties without state funding of free air time “would infringe on the rights of political parties to equal opportunities,” while there is no “obvious” connection between funding and air time to “justify” the measure either.
Moreover, the Venice Commission and ODIHR also said in another opinion adopted on March 20 that deregistering a party because of the foreign nationality of a person acting as its political leader “appears to be a disproportionate measure.”
“The restrictions of aliens to participate in domestic life could be limited to the establishment of political parties, but not their membership,” the opinion stressed.
According to the Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR, that the bill does not specify clear and objective criteria of “the notion of political leader,” and could also be perceived as a personally targetted legislation.
The controversial legislative package, unveiled in December 2020, was met with widespread CSO, Ombudsperson and opposition criticism, causing some three-month-long stall in post-election negotiations between the ruling Georgian Dream and opposition parties, which decried the legislative proposals as a threat of “repressions.”
Following the endorsement in the first sitting, GD chair Irakli Kobakhidze said the ruling party lawmakers would wait for the Venice Commission and ODIHR opinion until moving on with second and third hearings.
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