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The European Georgia Party, the largest opposition grouping in Georgia’s parliament, has lost its status as the parliamentary minority after two more MPs left the ruling party.
Gia Zhorzholiani and Mirian Tsiklauri, both former members of the Social Democrats faction in the Georgian Dream Party, announced they were leaving on Monday.
Their departure brought the total number of MPs in opposition to the government to 41, with 108 MPs from the ruling party and one seat vacant.
According to parliamentary procedures, in order to be designated the official minority, a grouping in parliament must unite at least half of all opposition MPs. European Georgia, with its 20 MPs, now falls short of this threshold.
Davit Bakradze, the European Georgia’s 2018 presidential candidate and a former speaker of parliament will no longer act as minority leader.
The parliament minority enjoy greater privileges than other opposition groups, including quotas in committees, speaking time during hearings, staff costs, and additional funding. The leader of the minority’s salary is equal to that of the majority leader — ₾5,540 ($2,100).
Seven MPs have left the ruling party since 21 February, including Eka Beselia, one of the founders of Georgian Dream, Levan Gogichaishvili a staunch opponent of the former ruling United National Movement party, Gedevan Popkhadze, a conservative MP and close ally of Beselia’s, and Zviad Kvachantiradze, who said he had grown increasingly alienated from the party.
Social Democrat Beka Natsvlishvili whose pension system initiative was recently voted down by his party left on 22 February.
[Read analysis from OC Media’s Shota Kincha: Why the ruling party in Georgia is losing its MPs]
On 22 February, Georgian Dream dropped below the 133 MPs needed to make changes to the constitution.
One of the 150 seats in parliament remains vacant after Salome Zurabishvili, who sat as an independent, was elected president last year. An election in Tbilisi’s Mtatsminda District is due to be held in April and is expected to be competitive.
European Georgia and the UNM to unite?
MP Gia Zhorzholiani, who chairs the Georgian Social Democrats party, told Georgian news site Liberali on Sunday that he and Mirian Tsiklauri planned to set up a parliamentary faction together with the Alliance of Patriots.
The conservative Alliance of Patriots Party were due to lose their status as a parliamentary faction after member Davit Chichinadze announced he had left the party. Six MPs are necessary in order to form a faction.
European Georgia became the parliamentary minority during the 9th term of Georgia’s Parliament, after a dramatic split from the UNM Party in January 2017 in which 20 of the UNM’s 26 MPs left to form the new party.
The split occurred after a fallout between the MPs and former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who remains the chair of the UNM Party.
In 2017 local elections, the UNM gathered 17% of votes, with European Georgia falling behind with 10%. In 2018 presidential elections, European Georgia’s Davit Bakradze endorsed UNM-led opposition candidate Grigol Vashadze after receiving only 11% in the first round.
European Georgia has played down the significance of losing their status as the parliamentary minority.
‘Preserving our minority status is good, but if this is not possible, it won’t be a tragedy’, Gigi Tsereteli, an MP from European Georgia told OC Media.
He characterised the latest development as a side effect of the ‘ongoing dissolution’ of and ‘political crisis’ in the Georgian Dream party.
‘We might lose the time designated for the parliamentary minority during debates’, Tsereteli said but added that they mostly operated through their three parliamentary factions (European Georgia, European Georgia — Movement for Liberty, and European Georgia — Regions), which, according to him, would ensure representation in parliamentary committees.
Tsereteli did not rule out ‘current circumstances forcing’ more Georgian Dream MPs to abandon their party.
‘Unless it is an orchestrated and planned partition, after which the two [groups] will play the roles of majority and minority’, Tsereteli noted.
Eka Beselia did not rule out seeking the role of parliamentary minority after her break from Georgian Dream.
Tsereteli said that there were no ongoing talks to join with the UNM or any other group, and it ‘is not expected in the nearest future’.