U.S. Embassy’s Yellow Card on Judicial Appointments – Amended Voting Procedure Simulated in CEC – Ruling Party Accused of Overnight Manipulation of Gender Quota Bill – Media: Gakharia Met Saakashvili in D.C. – Neo-Nazis Attack Punk Concert – Batumi Riviera: Appeals Court Disagrees with 1st Instance Ruling – Transgender Rights in Focus
Even though European mediators have left Georgia, the spirit of the EU-brokered deal remains – and so does the disagreement over what that spirit stands for. And while the ruling party and opposition are busy slamming each other for not following that SPIRIT, new emerging challenges demand a quick response. Here is Nini with our updates from Georgia.
REFORMS GONE WRONG
Yellow Card. While the ruling Georgian Dream party claims to follow the “spirit” of the April 19 Agreement, many concerns were raised both locally and internationally over the planned reforms as well as procedures that precede the core amendments. This is probably why the U.S. Embassy had nothing left but to put the yellow marker to the key provisions of the deal document concerning the judicial reforms, including those about halting the judicial appointments until the changes were made. The yellow marker was menacingly out after the GD went ahead with appointments of Supreme Court justices despite the public criticism and “extreme disappointment” expressed by U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan.
Innovative Chaos. Neither does it look simple in terms of election reforms: even the least controversial changes, if not properly addressed, may trigger chaos no less intense than the one seen right after the last elections. International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), a Georgian election watchdog, monitored the simulation of a more technologically advanced voting process held at the Central Election Commission (CEC). The innovations, aimed at a more transparent process and less probable fraud, include, among others, face recognition tools, video recording of vote-counting, special ballots with unique codes, etc. Watchdog’s preliminary findings on potential flaws include systemic problems of special face recognition devices, functional overload of certain commission members and related errors, technical risks of vote secrecy breach, and other possible shortcomings – all small details with huge impact potential.
WHILE YOU WERE ASLEEP
Turns out, the ruling party MPs literally have no sleep at night working on reform bills: women’s rights activists and opposition MPs allege that the ruling party waited it out till wee hours to shoe in amendments to the election code: while the existing rules ordered “every other” party-list candidate to be of “different gender”, the local self-government elections to be held till 2028, may be reduced to “one-in-three” gender quota. Activists argue no gender quota reforms were initially foreseen and they were caught completely unaware. “When the ruling party member raised this issue, no woman was present in the [parliamentary committee] room and this is the clearest example that, without female engagement, at 3:30 AM, several men decided to take away our equality rights,” said MP Ana Natsvlishvili from Lelo for Georgia party.
CSOs, female MPs, and activists said in a joint statement that women got only 1/5 of legislative mandates through the last parliamentary elections, while the female deputies in local assemblies (Sakrebulo) only amount to 13.5% of all members. Thus, “Georgia significantly lags behind the developed countries in terms of women’s political representation,” the statement reads. The ruling party’s excuse was that while the proportional-party list ratio of deputies is set to rise in Sakrebulos, the initially defined minimal goal of different gender representation is still reachable through the “one in three” quota.
Remember we wrote about intensified Washington trips by opposition parties, including the UNM and Giorgi Gakharia’s For Georgia? Now Rustavi 2 TV channel says Gakharia’s crew and UNM leaders – even Ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili – happened to stay at the same Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Adding a thick layer of conspiracy, the channel said a secret meeting took place between ex-PM and ex-President. Reports are based on video footage showing Saakashvili and Gakharia’s security officer walking in the same hall, as well as on remarks by UNM’s Tina Bokuchava and Nona Mamulashvili who appear as confirming Gakharia stayed at the same hotel until he eventually “took off.”
Ruling party members, as expected, saw it as a confirmation of their earlier conspiracy theories about Gakharia-Saakashvili ties. “Things went full circle and this fact confirms the suspicions we had,” GD MP Shalva Papuashvili was quoted. Gakharia himself also responded, posting an edited selfie showing him with Saakashvili and Bidzina Ivanishvili with a text “No to Planting” – a famous message stemming from his tenure as an Interior Minister when thousands were protesting planting of evidence – usually drugs – on activists. Joke in bad taste? Indeed. It still gets you facebook engagements, the top currency in this brave new world.
Also in the news:
- President Zurabishvili Visits Kyiv
- Family, Supporters of Arbitrarily Detained Gakheladze Hold a March
Those who attended a punk music concert held on Tbilisi hippodrome territory (the one set to be turned into a central park somewhere in the future) on June 19 report an organized attack from dozens of Neo-nazis, including presumably underage persons. Dressed in t-shirts reading “white pride,” some of the assailants allegedly carried, or even fired from “air guns.” RFE/RL Georgia edition says that police reportedly isolated the assailants and investigations are ongoing under violence charges – a softer qualification for crimes that were clearly ideologically motivated. Witnesses say that anti-Nazi lyrics of punk songs were the main trigger and that threats and invitations to clear things up face to face have been repeatedly voiced by the hate groups on social media. While social media sparring matches are quite common, it has been rare that for the neo-Nazi groups to pass to action, the observers worry.
Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) said the Court of Appeals partially reversed the first instance court ruling which refused to annul the construction permit of “Batumi Riviera” – a project envisaging the construction of several skyscrapers in the historic center of the coastal city of Batumi. The CSO represented activists and locals who have been opposing the project for multiple concerns. GYLA wrote in January about “the project’s [negative] impact on the environment, boulevard, sea, coastline, human health, historic and cultural heritage and the economy of the city.” The appeals court reportedly ordered to return the case to the first instance for reconsideration, holding that the previous ruling did not provide specific motives for the refusal of the annulment, and neither was the evidence of the appellants assessed.
Amanda is a Georgian transgender woman with a passion for art. Born into a family enduring economic hardship, Amanda says she ended up in prison at the age of 18 after forcibly taking the money from a client who refused to pay her for sex work. She was jailed for 7 years on robbery charges since otherwise, the investigator threatened that her family would find out about her activities, she says. “I look for love in people, among friends, I want to fill the void that was left by separation from my parents” Amanda notes in a video story prepared within the framework of the #JusticeForAll campaign supported by CoE EU Partnership for Good Governance. And there is one thing the video series are trying to draw attention to: “Georgia’s legislative framework fails to provide equal rights for LGBTQI persons.”
That’s the full lid for today. Celebrate the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics with us every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday!