The civil society organization Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) has stated that the by-elections scheduled by the Central Election Commission (CEC) in Senaki Local Council (Sakrebulo) for 1 October “do not comply with the law” and has appealed to the Tbilisi City Court for its cancellation.
The need to hold by-elections in Senaki municipality arose after a member of the United National Movement faction, Vakhtang Tsurtsumia, left the local council (Sakrebulo). His authority was officially terminated on May 31 before the end of his mandate.
On the basis of the Local Self-government Code1, GYLA noted in its 15 August statement that since the Senaki Local Council has not convened for more than 6 months, there are unconditional grounds for terminating its powers and preconditions for scheduling early elections in the municipality.
The CSO explained that the representative body of Senaki municipality last met on 17 December 2021, and since then, despite more than 10 attempts to hold a session, it has failed to do so due to a lack of quorum.
According to GYLA, on 9 February 2022, UNM and ex-Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia’s For Georgia party gathered 16 deputies in the Senaki Local Council and opened the session on the basis of the quorum on 3 December 2021. During that session, the 16 deputies recognized a For Georgia deputy’s mandate and elected members to the temporary vote counting and mandate commissions. Additionally, they elected the chairperson of the Local council on 23 February.
“GYLA considers that the sessions of February 9 and 23 were not legitimate due to the lack of a proper quorum, which is why the meeting of deputies could not be considered a session of the [Local Council]. Accordingly, the authority of the Senaki Local Council was to be terminated on June 17, 2022, after which the government was obliged to issue a legal act on the introduction of direct state governance in this municipality,” the statement denoted.
For Georgia Party Responds
The CEC’s decision to schedule by-elections in Senaki was criticized by the For Georgia party as well, with one of its leaders, Berdia Sichinava stating on 13 August that the election administration is “an appendage of the [Georgian] Dream party” and that its decision is illegal.
Per Sichinava, the Local Council did not convene to make a decision on terminating Tsurtsumia’s mandate. According to Sichinava’s explanation, for a local council member to resign they must address the chairperson with a resignation letter and since the issue of the chairperson of the Senaki Local Council is in dispute and the ruling party has lodged a court case over the matter, the relevant application “physically does not exist.”
Sichinava criticized the election administration for “cutting and sowing laws” in line with the ruling party’s wishes and for becoming “a part of the criminal regime.”
On 15 August, the For Georgia party reiterated its position and stated that it is “another attempt to change the election results” by the ruling party and noted that the CEC again “acted in the interest of the government,” which “deliberately harms the process of Georgia’s European integration.”
They emphasized that these illegal actions are being carried out against the background of Georgia having to “implement ambitious democratic reforms in just 5 months to get [EU] candidate status…,” Natia Mezvrishvili, a member of the party, said.
Election Administration Responds
“It is unfortunate that the legal and necessary activities of the CEC are being used by a specific political force to discredit the institution,” the CEC stated on 13 August in response to the “groundless accusations and threats.”
Per the CEC’s explanation, Tsurtsumia’s authority was terminated in accordance with Article 43 (1a and 4)2 of the Local Self-government Code. “Accordingly, the CEC had a fully legal basis and obligation to schedule the by-elections…,” CEC added.
The CEC underscored that according to the law, the early termination of a local council member’s mandate on the basis of a personal statement, “happens on the day after the submission of this statement…”
They added that the CEC does not require the recognition of the resignation statement by the Local Council before it can schedule elections.
Earlier Senaki Developments
Significantly, before Tsurtsumia announced his resignation, members of the UNM faction claimed that he was “kidnapped” and pressured to leave the local council.
On 30 May, the chairperson of the UNM faction of the Senaki Local Council, Lasha Kuchava, said that they had been looking for Tsurtsumia since that morning but could not find him, with his family also unaware of his whereabouts.
“According to my information, he is being pressured, kidnapped, and asked to leave the council,” Kuchava said and added that such measures were being applied to all members of their party.
UNM and For Georgia elected Irakli Kacharava, a member of the latter’s party on 23 February against the backdrop of procedural disputes with the ruling party.
For months, the election of the chairperson of the 33-member Senaki Local Council could not be held because neither the ruling party nor the opposition had the necessary majority after 2021, local self-government elections in which GD won 16 seats, UNM won 13, and For Georgia won 4.
The deadlock in Senaki was created after Ilia Akhalaia, a For Georgia party member, refused his mandate at the beginning of December. As a result, the opposition was left with a total of 16 votes, which was not enough to elect a chairperson.
The situation in the local council changed on February 9, when opposition MPs recognized the authority of Nikoloz Shamatava to replace Akhalaia. Members of the ruling party and staff of the Local Council stated then that the opposition had violated the law.
At the time, GD announced they would appeal to the Senaki District Court to annul the decision of the Local Council. Per GYLA’s statement, the court has since suspended the ability of the local council to make decisions and the case is currently under consideration.
1Article 142 (1c) of the Local Self-government Code, Premature Termination of Powers of a Sakrebulo and of the Mayor: The powers of the Sakrebulo shall be terminated prematurely if” the Sakrebulo fails to meet for 6 consecutive months.
2Aricle 43 (1a and 4) of the Local Self-government Code, Early Termination and Suspension of Powers of a member of a Municipality Sakrebulo: The powers of a member of a municipality Sakrebulo shall be prematurely terminated if he/she resigns;
In cases provided for by paragraph 3 of this article, the powers of a member/official of a municipality Sakrebulo shall be prematurely terminated from the day following the occurrence of the relevant act. A member of a municipality Sakrebulo shall notify of his/her resignation in writing to the chairperson of the municipality Sakrebulo. The day following the day of registration of the relevant application shall be considered to be the moment of termination of his/her powers.