The outgoing Georgian Dream-led Sakrebulos across the country have begun the review of the draft 2022 local budgets, including in seven Sakrebulos where GD failed to gain a single-party majority in October local elections, prompting the opposition’s discontent and anger.
While GD dismisses the opponents’ worries, its opposition claims the ruling party fears snap municipal election, if opposition-dominated Sakrebulos fail twice to approve a draft budget. In six out of seven municipalities, where GD falls short of the majority, mayors are from the ruling Georgian Dream.
Following the law, Georgian Mayors drafted the municipal budgets for the coming year and submitted the document to municipal councils for an initial review and public deliberations. Georgia’s Local Self-Government Code strictly states that the process of budget approval should begin no later than November 15 of each year.
But there is a caveat: since the municipal elections were held in October, the newly-elected Councils have not yet been convened and the outgoing deputies are the ones leading the budget review process.
It includes Batumi, Rustavi, Zugdidi, Chkhorotsku, Tsalenjikha, Senaki, and Martvili Sakrebulos, where the opposition’s victory altered the GD-led composition of the previous Sakrebulo convocation.
The Councils, elected some four years ago in 2017, are right now discussing the draft budget with the public and within Sakrebulo commissions and factions. They are obliged to return the draft, alongside their comments, to the Mayors by latest on November 25. The mayors, in turn, have to present the revised draft to Sakrebulos no later than December 10.
According to the law, the incoming Council deputies will be able to take over the mandates once the Central Election Commission summons the first Sakrebulo sessions. The CEC said they would set the day at the nearest CEC session, without elaborating further. The CEC stressed that it announced the final election results on November 13 and that the law allows them to summon the new Sakrebulos on any date by December 13.
As for the mayors, those who secured their office in October 30 runoffs can commence their work on November 21, on the 11th day after the final election results were announced. There is a single municipality in Tsalenjikha where an opposition candidate – United National Movement’s Giorgi Kharchilava – is set to take over the post, meaning he will be able to alter the current draft budget before sending it back to Sakrebulo for a vote.
The opposition has claimed that the Georgian Dream leadership is “instructing” the local councils to rush through the process.
One of the United National Movement leaders, MP Ani Tsitlidze who hails from UNM-stronghold Zugdidi, alleged on November 17 that the GD fears snap municipal elections. She pointed to the Local Self-Government Code, which obliges the government to prematurely terminate the powers of the municipal council and mayor if the local budget is not approved within three months after the beginning of a new year, paving the way for the snap polls.
Hoping to interfere with the review process, MP Tsitlidze, who also heads the UNM’s Zugdidi Office, and other UNM Sakrebulo deputies tried on November 17 to picket the Zugdidi Sakrebulo meeting room where the GD faction was set to discuss the draft budget.
The police removed the protesters – among them the four newly elected Sakrebulo members who also happen to be on a hunger strike demanding the transfer of jailed ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili to a civilian hospital – from the place by force shortly after.
Some other government opponents, including the Lelo party’s Irakli Kupradze, elected to Batumi Sakrebulo in October, and MP Mikheil Daushvili of For Georgia party, that is the kingmaker in several Sakrebulos, have called on the CEC to immediately summon the first sessions of the Councils. Kupradze said, “the CEC has the opportunity to call up the first Sakrebulo sessions as early as tomorrow.”
Georgian Dream Response
The ruling party in their responses has maintained that the Sakrebulos are following the law.
Deputy Parliamentary Chairperson Archil Talakvadze said on November 17 that the councils have a right to convene a meeting before their mandate is terminated. He stressed it is “entirely within its competence.”
Zugdidi Sakrebulo Acting Chair Besik Chezhia also assured “nothing special is happening in Zugdidi Municipality Sakrebulo,” referring to Georgia’s Local Self-Government Code.
Saying that he was amazed by the actions of his opponents, referring to the protesters blocking the room, the acting Chair claimed that the opposition was “fully involved in the Sakrebulo commission discussions from the beginning to the end.”