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Georgia’s Parliament overrode President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s veto of a local self-government bill on 26 July. The bill has faced criticism for making controversial core changes to the previous self-governing legislation without the consent of civil society organisations.
Seventy-eight members of parliament voted against the veto, with only five supporting it. Others abstained from voting or were not present at the plenary session.
Margvelashvili vetoed the new self-government bill on 20 July along with the new Election Code, claiming the ‘spirit of both of these laws hinders the country’s democratic process, weakens pluralism and reduces public involvement in the functioning of our state’.
The bill will deprive self-governing status from seven cities — Akhaltsikhe, Ambrolauri, Mtskheta, Ozurgeti, Telavi, and Zugdidi — merging them with surrounding municipalities. This will leave only five self-governing cities: Tbilisi, Rustavi, Kutaisi, Poti, and Batumi.
This also means that only the latter five cities will have elected mayors.
The current local self-government code came into force in 2014, increasing the number of self-governing cities from five to twelve. While in opposition before 2012, the ruling Georgian Dream party repeatedly criticised the government for creating a centralised system of government, promising to implement reforms to give local governments and regions more power.
[For the background, read on OC Media: Georgian government to strip cities of self-governing status]
Controversy between parliamentary and presidential speakers
A spat broke out in parliament while discussing the president’s comments on the bill.
Parliamentary Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze said that the veto was ‘unsubstantiated’ and that the president’s notes did not include any arguments which would justify the move.
The President’s Parliamentary Secretary Ana Dolidze called out Kobakhidze for what she called ‘undeserved criticism’, but Kobakhidze interrupted her, saying it was not her prerogative to ‘pursue the political debate’. ‘You are a public servant, you have to present the arguments against the bill’, Kobakhidze said.
Dolidze later told journalists that ‘this was not the first time we have seen that the Speaker is coarse and unsuitable for his position’.