Georgian Dream chairperson Irakli Kobakhidze went on pro-Government media Imedi TV on 20 October to discuss, among other things, the selection process of the Public Defender. He claimed that the party was driven by the “circumstances” in 2017 when it chose to support the candidacy of “the Ombudsman of the United National Movement,” Nino Lomjaria and pledged not to act in the same way this time around. Lomjaria’s term in office expires on 9 December and the much-disputed selection of the new candidates is now ongoing. Back in 2017, Nino Lomjaria, who previously served as the Deputy Auditor General, was nominated by the Georgian Dream and endorsed by 13 national NGOs. The United National Movement (UNM) voted for her election at the time, although another large opposition faction, European Georgia, did not. While nominating the candidate in 2017, Irakli Kobakhidze, who then served as the Chairman of the Parliament, said “we have taken into consideration the experience, qualification, and impartiality criteria and ultimately, the ruling majority made its choice in favor of Nino Lomjaria”.
Chairperson Kobakhidze claimed that when the Georgian Dream chose to support Lomjaria’s candidacy in 2017, they were motivated by the “circumstances that pushed us in that direction…,” but added that “today, we have no plans to cede the office of the Public Defender to the United National Movement.”
Kobakhidze asserted that there is a risk that the United National Movement will try to “sabotage” the process of selecting the new Public Defender of Georgia, and thus one of the European Commission’s 12 recommendations, as a result of which the odds of the recommendations being fulfilled are “fifty-fifty.” “The fulfillment of this point is not in our hands, we need 90 votes, so if the opposition does not support the candidates, this point cannot be fulfilled,” he added.
The chair of the ruling party further claimed that UNM, apart from wishing to sabotage EU recommendations, “has nothing to lose, on the contrary, if they refuse all the candidates, then the office remains as is, that is, under the established order of the United National Movement.”
“If the Parliament fails to elect a Public Defender, in this case, the deputies and active members of the United National Movement who are in the office of the Public Defender remain in their positions. That is, they maintain full control over the Public Defender’s Office,” MP Kobakhidze underscored.
Which Candidate does Georgian Dream Support?
Asked about whether the Georgian Dream party has chosen a candidate to support, MP Kobakhidze said that they have not started party consultations yet but he emphasized that they “do not have any fears regarding the nomination of the Public Defender.” “We have one principle, the Public Defender must conscientiously perform their function, which is called the supervision of human rights. This is its constitutional function,” he added.
MP Kobakhidze also said that the new Public Defender should “not be politically biased… These are not our requirements, these are objective requirements.”
The Georgian Dream Chairperson noted, that for him personally, “there are those [candidates] that are clearly unacceptable and there are those that may be acceptable… [But] let’s not get ahead of ourselves, all 19 candidates were named in the end, the 19 will be heard by the Parliament, interviews will be held, and after that, we will be able to state our public position.”
Issues with Lomjaria
MP Kobakhidze also continued criticism of the current Public Defender Lomjaria, and commented that “a person who has visited only one prisoner in 5 years, and this prisoner is Mikheil Saakashvili, cannot be the Public Defender.” According to the latest annual report, the Public Defender’s office made hundreds of visits to the penitentiary and psychiatric institutions, as well as military units and other agencies.
“We really don’t want such a Public Defender anymore, because political bias is clearly visible. We will not choose such a Public Defender under any circumstances,” he stressed.
He claimed that this is based on the Georgian Dream’s desire to “take care of the Public Defender’s office,” damaged by the five years of Lomjaria’s tenure “because she was not engaged in supervising the protection of human rights but in the pursuit of political interests.” He also accused Lomjaria of interfering in foreign policy and reiterated, “naturally we will not allow such a thing.”
Timeline of the Leadup to Selecting the Public Defender:
- 01/09/2022 – Georgian Dream Will Not Nominate Public Defender Candidates, says GD MP
- 01/09/2022 – U.S. Ambassador Urges Inclusivity in Selecting Public Defender
- 09/09/2022 – Public Defender’s Office Criticizes Draft Bill on Nominating Ombudsman
- 15/09/2022 – Parliament Speaker Sets Rules for Nominating Public Defender
- 27/09/2022 – Civil Society Organizations Present Candidates for New Public Defender
- 27/09/2022 – Parliament Reveals Working Group Meant to Evaluate Public Defender Candidates
- 30/09/2022 – Parliament Releases List of Public Defender Applicants
- 10/10/2022 – Civil Society Weighs in on Public Defender Selection Process
- 11/10/2022 – Public Defender Report Met with Ruling Party Scorn
- 15/10/2022 – Review Committee Gives Top Marks to CSO-nominated Public Defender Candidates