In the early minutes of March 31, after mediating an eight-hour meeting between the ruling Georgian Dream and the opposition parties, Christian Danielsson, EU Council President Charles Michel’s Personal Envoy to mediate Georgia’s crisis, said he was “sad to report that none of the political parties could agree to this solution in whole.”
Danielsson publicized the document he proposed the parties for agreement. While the Georgian Dream and the opposition leaders traded accusations afterward over the failure to strike the deal, it seems the parties largely agreed on the electoral reform, judicial reform, and parliamentary power-sharing points. They failed, however, as expected, to reach a consensus over the release of alleged political prisoners and the issue of future elections.
The opposition’s key demand for snap elections – fiercely rejected by the GD government – was not reflected in the public document. It referred, however, to the prospect for the release and dropping charges against Nika Melia, top opposition leader, by initiating amnesty for June 2019 unrest participants. This passage did not include the release of Giorgi Rurua, pro-opposition Mtavari Arkhi TV shareholder, whom the opposition also regards as a political prisoner.
Danielsson is now expected to update President Michel about the development in the coming days, while it remains unclear whether the EU mediation efforts will continue.
“This is a solution that requires political courage and responsibility,” stated the EU diplomat. Below are the main takeaways of the text Danielsson put forward, that the parties rejected to fully endorse:
- Addressing perceptions of politicized justice
According to the text, “in order to implement this agreement, the signatories commit to addressing the two cases of perceived politicized justice.” In particular, the text speaks of initiating an amnesty law for all violations and convictions stemming from June 2019 protests. Parliament shall address “the perception of politicized justice through legislation and amending the Rules of Procedure as necessary, to require a higher than simple majority threshold for the lifting of parliamentary immunity,” the text reads.
- Ambitious electoral reform
According to Danielsson’s text, all future parliamentary elections shall be fully proportional. The next two parliamentary elections shall have a threshold between natural and 2%. The document requires parties to support the bill tabled in Parliament on 2 March, with the following amendments: with local elections to have a 4/1 ratio of proportional and majoritarian mandates for the 5 largest cities and 2/1 for all others; thresholds shall be 2.5% in Tbilisi and 3% everywhere else.
As for the Central Election Commission, the document reads the CEC shall have 8 professional members and 9 political party members. Professional members appointed by a two-thirds majority of the Parliament’s full composition. It says also that one of the political party members representing an opposition party shall be Deputy Chairperson.
Clear criteria for the recounts of ballots shall be defined, the text reads, adding that the automatic 10% recount of all precincts on a random basis remains.
- Rule of Law/Judicial Reform
The document says Parliament shall adopt “ambitious judicial reform” in this Parliamentary term, including the following, as the first step in a broad, inclusive, and cross-party reform process.
To increase the independence, accountability, and quality of the judicial system, the document reads, the Georgian authorities will a) further enhance transparency and merit-based selections in the appointment of judges to the first instance and appeal courts, notably by publishing written justifications for appointments of judges with reference to integrity and competence criteria; b) appointments to the Supreme Court shall come in line with the Venice Commission opinion, notably as regards to the staggered approach to appointments, open voting in the High Council of Justice, and the need for the latter to justify the nominations; c) refrain from making appointments to the Supreme Court under existing rules; d) adopt the legislation implementing the ruling of the Constitutional Court of Georgia from June 2019 by setting rules for the publication of judicial decisions.
The text also reads that all ongoing Supreme Court appointments shall be paused and the application process shall be reopened; Substantive reform of the High Council of Justice; regarding future Prosecutor General, the parties commit to pursuing a shared political position that a vote of a qualified majority of the Members of Parliament, ensuring the broadest, cross-party political support;
- Power Sharing in the Parliament
Opposition MPs shall be assigned 5 committee chairmanships, 2 of which shall be among the following five committees: .1. Committee on Procedural Issues and Rules .2. Committee on Legal Issues .3. Human Rights Committee .4. Budget and Finance Committee 5. Foreign Relations Committee
- Future elections
The text says the parties take note of the assessment by the OSCE ODIHR, according to which “the 31 October parliamentary elections were competitive and, overall, fundamental freedoms were respected. Nevertheless, pervasive allegations of pressure on voters and blurring of the line between the ruling party and the state reduced public confidence in some aspects of the process.
The document notes that “the parties acknowledge their differing assessment of the 2020 elections and agree to take up their parliamentary mandates and participate in future elections on the basis of the electoral reform agreed here above.”
Danielsson returned to Tbilisi on the night of March 27-28 to bring the parties to an agreement, after his first week-long mission earlier this month ended without success.
European Council President Charles Michel initiated the mediation on March 1 during his Tbilisi visit. The mediation came after the detention of top opposition leader Nika Melia on February 23, coming a few hours after PM Irakli Garibashvili’s return as Prime Minister. PM Garibashvili replaced Giorgi Gakharia, who resigned after refusing to greenlight Melia’s detention. Gakharia is expected to announce his new political plans in the coming days.
But Georgia’s political crisis began in November, when the major opposition parties declared refusal to enter the new Parliament, citing “fraudulent” general elections on October 31. Post-election talks between GD and opposition, facilitated by the EU and U.S. Ambassadors, were stalled in early December and resumed only after President Michel’s impromptu mediation night on March 1.